I met Bill Heines while working on a story last November about Chapel House celebrating its 10-year anniversary. Chapel House is a nonprofit organization that serves homeless people in Cayuga County.
On that day, Bill, 58, was moving into the transitional housing facility on Grant Avenue, where he would share a 12-by-12 room with a another man.
It wasn’t the best accommodations, but for Bill it was better than no accommodations at all.
Bill was previously living in Pennsylvania working in a plastics manufacturing plant when he was laid off in 2017. Unable to find work, he could no longer pay his rent and faced being homeless, again.
A father and grandfather but never married, Bill’s family and relatives were not in a position to help.
Through Facebook, he reached out to Chapel House executive director Christine Thornton, who had helped him in the past with episodes of homelessness when he was living in Auburn.
Nicole Caltafano was assigned as his caseworker and with her assistance Heines began working his way through the transition process at the Cayuga County Department of Human Services. He needed medical attention as he had not seen a doctor in over 14 years.
Caltafano was there to guide him and offer the tools and support to successfully regain his independence. The rest was up to Bill.
A high school dropout, Bill worked in manufacturing and as a laborer most of his life. Years of hard physical work ravaged his body. He abused alcohol but now boasts of being four years sober.
Heines was a nervous wreck when Caltafano finally got him in to see a doctor. He was convinced that the results of a physical would bring bad news. He thought for sure he would be told he had cancer. He did not. However, he does suffer from severe neck and shoulder pain due to arthritis, bone spurs and nerve damage. The resulting pain limits his employment opportunities to non-repetitious light duty work.
Heines was a favorite among the other residents because of his happy-go-lucky, outgoing personality. Even when he was down in the dumps about his own situation he always seemed to be able to produce a smile on his face. He became a father figure, counseling some of the younger residents drawing from the tough lessons life had taught him.
In March, Caltafano finally told Bill the news he had been waiting for. She had found an apartment for him to share with three other men. A week later Thornton offered him a part-time job as an overnight monitor at the Chapel House shelter.
“He did everything we asked of him,” said Caltafano.
Today, things are looking up for Bill, who hopes to one day reunite with his son and grandchildren in Pennsylvania. But for now, he’s found a home away from home in Auburn.
AUBURN — Sara Wright carried her reason for being out at the Walk for Autism Awareness in Auburn in her arms Saturday.
Wright held her daughter Savannah Wright, 4, who has autism, and walked with hundreds at Herman Elementary School to Hoopes Park and back to the school for the event. Before the event, Savannah played with balloons with a gigawatt smile planted firmly on her face at the school's gymnasium. Wright said she doesn't think people really understand autism, adding "it can be in any form."
Walkers snaked through the park largely in separate packs, with police nearby to monitor traffic. Food and activities, including an appearance by Jeff the Magic Man, were available after the event.
The sixth annual fundraising event was set up by the nonprofit E. John Gavras Center, which provides services to children with or without disabilities, in Auburn. Rebecca Reese, the center's communications coordinator, said the event is meant to raise autism awareness and to raise money for the center. Reese and Bob Padula, president of the center's board of directors, said the center's funding through government programs such as Medicaid is cut every year, so the center opted years ago to hold events such as the walk. Padula, grinning ear-to-ear, said he believes seeing children receive therapy and other services at the center makes the event worthwhile for him. The event raised $12,000 last year, Reese said.
She praised the "incredibly supportive" community for supplying time and dollars for the event, with around 300 to 400 people marching each year. Reese said the event allows her to see faces she doesn't often see "outside of my four office walls" at her desk job.
"It's nice to see the smiling faces of the community that supports us," Reese said.
Elizabeth Smith said she was at the walk to support her son, Alijah Takarz, who has autism. Though Alijah was with his grandmother that morning, Smith said, she believes it is important to raise autism awareness. Smith wants people to look beyond Alijah's disability and see the "beautiful person" who is often the first to run to someone who is crying.
"Don't judge people off of what you see before you get to know them," Smith said.
Joel Giambra was a long shot to win the Republican nomination for governor. He was a surprise entrant into the race and hadn't spent months traveling the state like the other potential gubernatorial hopefuls.
But whatever chance he had of securing the GOP nod ended when state Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long called him a "nonstarter." Sure, Republicans could endorse Giambra if they wish. But leaders of the Conservative Party, one of New York's influential minor parties, wouldn't give him their line.
We saw another situation play out this week involving a minor party. There were reports that the Working Families Party, which typically endorses Democratic candidates for statewide office, would throw its support behind Cynthia Nixon. Nixon is challenging incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination.
Labor unions that helped build the Working Families Party pulled out. Cuomo said he wouldn't seek the party's endorsement. If he fends off the challenge from Nixon, Cuomo could become the first Democratic candidate for governor to run without the Working Families Party's support since the minor party line was created in 1998.
For many New Yorkers, this would appear to be the type of "inside baseball" drama that doesn't interest them. They care about jobs, taxes, education, environmental issues and more. So why should they care about the influence of minor party lines? Because when they go to the polls on Nov. 6, they won't be able to avoid it.
New York is one of a small number of states that allows a practice called fusion voting. This allows political parties — the Conservative and Working Families parties, for example — to cross-endorse major party candidates. The Conservative Party traditionally cross-endorses Republican candidates. The Working Families Party usually cross-endorses Democrats.
There are other examples. The largest minor party in New York is the state Independence Party. There are more than 436,000 active Independence Party voters in the state, according to the latest enrollment figures.
Despite its name, the Independence Party isn't a home for independent candidates. The party usually cross-endorses Republican candidates in congressional and state legislative races. It has cross-endorsed some Democrats, including Cuomo and other candidates for statewide office.
The minor parties don't end there. In 2014, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino formed the Stop Common Core party line — a show of his opposition to the Common Core learning standards. The creation of the Stop Common Core Party came with an added benefit for Astorino: It gave him a third ballot line. (He also ran on the Republican and Conservative lines against Cuomo.)
Astorino wasn't alone. Cuomo, who had a tussle with the Working Families Party in 2014, created the Women's Equality Party line. This gave him a fourth ballot line in addition to the Democratic, Independence and Working Families lines.
The Women's Equality Party line still exists today. The Stop Common Core Party changed its name to the Reform Party. It should come as no surprise that the Women's Equality Party typically endorses Democrats and the Reform Party supports Republican candidates.
Other minor parties, including the Green and Libertarian parties, operate in New York. But both usually don't cross-endorse major party candidates. The Greens and Libertarians typically nominate their own candidates for statewide office.
Proponents of fusion voting say it gives voters a choice if they don't want to cast a vote on the Democratic or Republican lines, even if it's for the same candidate.
Opponents argue that fusion voting encourages corruption. They also question the need for the minor party lines when the candidates they are supporting are already on the ballot.
There is a good chance most New Yorkers don't know about fusion voting. But there is also a good chance its existence may have influenced their decisions on Election Day.