BOSTON (CBS) — Just as the song goes, there’s no place like home for the holidays. And what better gift, than a home of your own for the very first time.
“Every time I turn these keys, it’s a blessing. My mom asked me, ‘Did it hit you yet?’ I said no. Not yet. It will in due time. I’m just overwhelmed. It’s just awesome,” said Thomas “TJ” O’Neil Fields as he smiled.
O’Neil Fields, who grew up in Philadelphia, has spent much of his adult life homeless.
“I had a coat. Sweatpants. And I think sneakers at one point,” he recalled.
His alcoholism caused years of suffering. Losing five toes to frost bite, his pain was physical as well as emotional. He remembers his embarrassment during a subway ride.
“I was smelling so bad, in a corner of the train, a lot of people were like this (covering their faces),” he said.
Thanks to his faith, and the Pine Street Inn, O’Neil Fields is now 15 months sober. And he’ll spend Christmas in his new apartment celebrating simple joys of comfort, privacy and quiet.
“When the sun goes down, the dogs don’t even bark. That’s how quiet it is in this neighborhood!” O’Neil Fields said laughing.
He’s reconnected with his five siblings and plans to visit them in Philadelphia in the new year. O’Neil Fields’s home is in just one of 35 fully furnished apartment buildings throughout Boston and Brookline. Soon Pine Street Inn will provide housing to more than 1000 previously homeless adults.
O’Neil Fields said he’s happy, and that he hopes his story inspires others who are struggling to keep moving forward.
“I’m not looking left. I’m not looking right. I’m not looking back. I did enough crying. It’s time to feel the joy and happiness of life. I got that chance and I’m not letting it go,” he said.