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Overdosed homeless man saved by Hartford police officer as addiction crisis worsens across Connecticut

A reality made worse by a two-year global pandemic. A crisis of homelessness.

HARTFORD, Conn. — A deadly dose of fentanyl nearly killed a homeless man in Hartford. Luckily, an angel in blue brought him back from the beyond. 

When you stand outside the opulent façade of the Connecticut State Capitol, it’s sometimes hard to see that just feet away lies a much less glamorous reality. A reality made worse by a two-year global pandemic. A crisis of homelessness. 

You’ve seen their faces at traffic islands across the state.

 “I just wanted to fit in as a kid,” said John Pendleton, a homeless Hartford panhandler. But have you heard their stories? “You’ve got to look beyond the appearance of them,” said Hartford Police Officer Jim Barrett. 

They are far below the high-rise towers, living amid the hustle and bustle of the 9-5. Hidden in plain sight. Hartford’s homeless population is about 500 strong.

 “Trying to make a dollar baby, that's it,” remarked Pendleton as he asked passersby for money. 

RELATED: Wethersfield considering ordinance to ban panhandling

Welcome to the underworld. 

“Hah! society. they could care more. have a little compassion,” said Pendleton. It’s a world where a bag is more important than a burger and where your next buy could be your last. “I overdosed. I almost died,” said Pendleton. 

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We followed Pendleton to his favorite traffic island at the corner of High and Main. It’s a typical day.

“Be safe, don't do drugs,” he shouted at the cars that passed. 

But John himself is an addict. He told FOX61 about the cold grip of addiction. 

“It’s hell,” said Pendleton. “I can’t function throughout my day without being able to get that bag in me.” 

RELATED: Pop-up resource program offers assistance to homeless population in New Haven

In March, John was just out of jail, he said, trying to give himself a fresh start at Intercommunity’s detox center in Hartford. But 30 days clean, he didn’t have any drugs in his system. 

“She looked at me and she said I hate to say this to you and I shouldn't say this but you need to go score and come back and give us dirty urine,” recounted Pendleton. 

FOX61 showed John’s story to Tyler Booth, the Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Intercommunity. We asked, “did something go wrong?” “Absolutely,” said Booth. 

Booth told FOX61 John should have been referred to Intercommunity’s residential treatment program. 

“I plan to, when we finish talking, go up to our detox, talk to leadership there and do additional training,” said Booth. 

Booth maintains that Intercommunity has no record of Pendleton utilizing its services since 2021. He gave FOX61 a tour of their residential rehab campus. 

The dry college dorm-style living is where an in-house pharmacy dispensing suboxone helps lessen the misery of withdrawal, and where residents like Toyia Shannon told fox61 of a much different Intercommunity experience. 

“The best rehab place I've been to,” said Shannon. “I’m grateful for Intercommunity. Period. I don’t mean to sound emotional because I am. I'm grateful that they opened up their doors to me,” said Shannon. 

John is back on the street, just an hour after making that buy of toxic fentanyl, he collapsed of and overdosed feet away from Hartford’s police headquarters. “And it just so happened that he was driving by as I was overdosing. by the grace of God,” said Pendleton. 

Not all heroes wear uniforms, but some do.

 “I noticed right away that it was John,” said Officer Jim Barrett, who rushed to administer the life-saving dose of Narcan, an opioid reversal drug. “I saw him coming too,” recalled Barrett. “I reassured him, it’s me, Officer Barrett. Everything is going to be alright. We are going to take care of you.” 

“I remember coming too and seeing him and knowing I was going to be okay. I think I actually clutched onto you. I clutched onto you like don’t let me go! Don’t let me go, yeah!” recalled Pendleton. 

It’s a bond beyond the badge. The creed officers live by has two parts. Protect - and serve. “You have to go back to the old policing mindset of getting to know your community,” said Barrett. 

A community he watches over even when he’s not on duty. Pictured as part of Harford’s frontline worker portrait project. 

He’s spent 19 years as the city’s only homeless liaison officer. He passes out gift cards and passes up promotions to stay connected to the streets. 

“You think you see pretty much everything, then you see something new,” said Barrett. 

So we end where we started, at the seat of state government. Run by Gov. Ned Lamont.

 “I think the best social program in the world is a good job,” said Lamont. 

Yet 86,000 people in Connecticut don’t have a job and nearly 3,000 remain homeless. That’s despite the government increasing funding toward affordable housing and community support programs.

“I think we’ve extended outreach, we’ve provided more congregate settings. We took a lot of the hotels closing down and made them available so they had a roof over their head,” said Lamont. 

FOX61 talked to some other members of Hartford’s homeless community. There’s a lot of shame, there’s a lot of guilt,” said Timothy Keller. While a man named Nathan simply said, “People want help, bottom line.” 

Nearly 40% of Connecticut families live paycheck to paycheck. If you need a hand up,  click here for a list of resources.

Matt Caron is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at mcaron@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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