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Housing issues affect everyone in Connecticut, from those who are searching for a safe place to live, to those who may find it increasingly difficult to afford a place they already call home.WNPR is covering Connecticut's housing and homelessness issues in a series that examines how residents are handling the challenges they face. We look at the trends that matter most right now, and tell stories that help bring the issues to light.

A Tale Of Feet: Officer's Generosity Toward Flip-Flop Wearing Man Sparks Hartford 'Boot Party'

Officer Jim Barrett looked after this year's Footwear With Care Holiday Boot Party by keeping tabs on the line outside the venue in Hartford. He also met with people that he could help next.
Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public Radio
Officer Jim Barrett looked after this year's Footwear With Care Holiday Boot Party by keeping tabs on the line outside the venue in Hartford. He also met with people that he could help next.

One homeless man’s interaction with a Hartford police officer has become more than just a legendary city tale.

Hartford’s homeless population is now reaping the benefits from the incident that happened three years ago.

It all started when a homeless man, Joseph Edwards, approached Officer Jim Barrett who was on duty -- patrolling an area near City Hall on Main Street in 2015.

Barrett realized Edwards was wearing flip flops and he knew that it was supposed to snow later that day.

Edwards handed Barrett a military ID. Barrett, who says he himself was a combat veteran, felt sympathy for Edwards and told him he'd have something for him the next day.

“He came through -- called my phone, had boots and some cosmetics for me," Edwards said. "Then, this whole organization kind of started because after he helped me, he thought about how he could help the other homeless people.”

Barrett traces back to that experience when he explains why he now helps out people in need in his city.

“My eyes were opening up more and more and I [saw] so much of a need out there," Barrett said. "I took it upon myself to make change.”

Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio
Joseph Edwards is now seven months sober and has a place to stay. Before that, he was sleeping outside as a homeless man in Hartford. Edwards is known for being the man in flip flops that approached Officer Jim Barrett in 2015 before a snowstorm hit the area.

The officer told a woman named Abby Sullivan Moore about his chance encounter with the homeless guy wearing sandals on a cold day.

“I was really moved by that simple act of kindness,” Moore said.

Moore ultimately launched a nonprofit called Footwear With Care.

“I immediately called up a friend of mine, Stephanie Blozy, who owns Fleet Feet, and said ‘Stephanie, can you help us out here? A lot of these homeless people just don’t have adequate footwear,’” Moore said. “She immediately donated I believe it was 50 pairs of shoes. From there, we were off and running -- pardon the expression.”

Every December, Moore organizes a holiday boot party. This year, hundreds of people received socks, a care package that included gloves and hats, and a fresh new pair of winter boots.

The clients who come to the party can even get free medical care for the feet that go in the boots courtesy of the Connecticut Podiatric Medical Association.

“Feet are the foundation of the body,” Moore said. “If you don’t have a pair of decent shoes and if your feet aren’t well cared for, you’re miserable.”

It all goes down inside the annex building of the Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford.

Joseph Edwards now volunteers at the holiday boot party that takes place inside the annex building of the Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford. He’s giving back in honor of the gifts he got three years ago.

“I wanted to come see the smiles on everyone’s faces as they get boots and stuff,” Edwards said.

It’s been quite a journey—more like an odyssey—for Edwards. A native of Alabama, Edwards came to Connecticut and joined the Army Reserve. But then, he lost his way.

“My first city was Bristol and then, I kind of just moved around because I’ve never settled down anywhere -- drinking, addiction, partying-- not having the sense to actually do something for myself because of all of the things I was going through,” Edwards said.

But he said that things started going the other way for him after Officer Jim Barrett warmed him up with some new boots.

“You can’t change the cold – your whole body gets cold,” Edwards said. “It also helps with your confidence. If you’ve got good shoes on, you’re more confident in going places to actually get help.”

Edwards has a place to stay now. He’s at a detox center, and he’s seven months sober.

“Officer Barrett and other people have told me [about] the good they see in me and finally, I get to see it myself and actually do something about it to make it an everyday thing,” Edwards said.

That means a lot to Barrett, who’s stayed in touch with Edwards since they met in the cold back in 2015.

“It’s a rewarding experience when these guys come back and say, ‘Because of you, you saved my life -- because of you, I’m doing well now,'” Barrett said.

Their relationship meant happy feet for at least 350 people experiencing homelessness in Hartford this December.

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