This past winter, a car struck and killed a homeless man in Concord, N.H. His name was Gene Parker.
He lived on the streets for five years and in that time, his friends and advocates fought hard to get him into an apartment. But he died before that could happen.
So what happened to Gene Parker?
Just off Main Street in Concord, N.H., there's a steep drop down a set of concrete stairs, into what’s basically a hole in the ground. Gene Parker lived down there one winter.
He had no legs by then. Parker’s friend Liza Urena tells us he dragged himself down into this hole and didn’t come up for a month.
Just a few weeks after his death, Urena brought us to a bunch of Parker’s old sleeping spots. They were best friends. She still has all these voicemails from him on her phone.
This is the last one he left her, 20 minutes before the car hit him.
Here is a picture of Parker in those last years of his life: scraggly gray beard, sunburned face, wheeling down Main Street, panhandling at intersections.
Most of the time he slept on the fringes of the city, in bushes, under bridges, along train tracks.
The federal government reports they make up only about 15 percent of the homeless population. But at least half the money spent on homelessness goes to this small group.
Gene Parker had just about all those obstacles. And those obstacles made his life on the street very dangerous.
Andy Labrie of Community Action Program has seen a lot of his chronically homeless clients die on the streets of the state capitol.
And from the moment Labrie met Parker, he says he knew how to save his life: get him an apartment.
That sounds really simple but advocates, doctors, the White House all call that the solution. Just giving chronically homeless people saves lives and lots of taxpayer money. But it hasn’t gained much traction in New Hampshire.
So as the years ticked by and the longer Parker was on the street, the harder it was to climb out of it.
"Hi Liza. This is Geno. I’m at the shelter. Give me a call if you can because I’m trying to hook up a ride up to the hospital tomorrow so I can stay warm somehow. Sunday’s my birthday, but I still wanna stay out of the cold. So give me a call, will ya? Bye."
Gene Parker was a really complicated guy. Andy Labrie says it wasn’t his job to judge him.
"There were good parts of Gene and bad parts of Gene, just like the rest of us. Gene made some mistakes and he unfortunately paid for them - with his life in the end," he says.
The first reason Parker was homeless, and the reason you may decide to not like him, was that he was a sex offender.
Decades ago, Parker was living in Wilton, married, and a father. That’s when he sexually assaulted two children. He served nine years in prison, and in 2010 was released right into homelessness.
Public housing, shelters, landlords almost always say no to sex offenders. So Parker slept outside, often illegally. Concord police had 89 interactions with Parker between 2011 and 2016.
Parker bought time however, and wherever he could.
In the messages, you can hear Parker is sober and coherent sometimes, and drunk other times.
Parker was a serious alchoholic; one friend told us he could drink 36 beers in a day.
Dr. Dominic Geffken works at a clinic at Concord Hospital, where Parker spent a lot of time. Geffken says studies show homelessness cuts life expectancy by twenty years.
"Nutrition, you know, so those kind of basic things we take for granted," he says. "They might stay out until they have a heart attack and not get preventive care."
People like Parker are also more vulnerable to uncommon, traumatic injuries. Like the one where he lost his legs in the winter of 2013. Parker kept warm with an open propane flame inside a plastic tent, which is as dangerous as it sounds.
"This is Geno. Guess what? My tent just burned down to the ground. I ain’t got no place to go. So anyways. Give me a call because I might need a ride out of here. OK? Thank you. Bye."
And one of those nights his tent caught fire, Parker burned his legs really badly. A few days later he passed out drunk, outside, and woke up with frostbite.
Which sent him back to the hospital, this time for a double amputation.
Around then is when he met Alyssa Norton, a homeless 20-year-old alcoholic who became one of his closest friends, and one of the handful of people who helped keep Gene Parker alive.
"You could tell on the inside he was like, really, 'What the hell’s my life now?'" says Norton.
Here’s what Gene Parker’s life was, after he lost his legs: Norton pushing him in his new wheelchair down to the street to buy booze. Literally dragging himself into campsites, or somewhere to have a bowel movement.
Liza Urena and Alyssa Norton both told us his tent got so bad they cleaned it for him a few times.
"That was horrible," Norton says. "We found spiders, dead mice, mice that were alive. I mean, yeah...no. no. Moldy food, stuff like that. Even thinking about it I can smell it."
In what would turn out to be the last year of his life, the idea that Gene Parker would ever dig himself out of chronic homelessness seemed pretty much impossible. For everyone who knew him, just getting Parker somewhere indoors felt like a matter of life or death.
Advocate Andy Labrie even worked with the cops to get Parker into jail for three months—for not re-registering as a sex offender, which he had to do four times a year.
But then, just as winter 2016 was coming, Labrie’s work to find Parker a home looked like it was paying off.
"I found this landlord who said he would take him," Labrie says. But he thought it was better to wait to tell Parker.
"I didn’t tell him this time because it blew up last time. I just told him he should expect to be going someplace. I didn’t think it was going to be heaven...or hell," he says.
But on January 28 of this year, Gene Parker ate dinner at the soup kitchen and wheeled out into the snowy, wet night, not knowing that somewhere across the city the paint was literally drying on an apartment for him.
He was navigating the shoulder of I-393, when a car hit him. He died three days later at Concord Hospital.
He had just turned 62 years old.