Mark Hayward's City Matters: A man of the streets helped set up a haven for those who need it most
Raymond Rheault, seen in a 2011 police photo, was a homeless Manchester man who died in early November. He was one of the founders of 1269 Cafe, a coffee shop that caters to the homeless and destitute.
They went to Veterans Park in Manchester — a better place than most for their research — and Chevalier started striking up conversations. He spoke to a few, but the one he latched onto was Raymond Rheault, who was then 51 and had been on and off the streets for three decades.
Rheault invited Chevalier and his family to a succession of rooms he'd rent out in rooming houses. Chevalier in turned visited Rheault in other lodgings that weren't as homey — the Valley Street jail, the hospital, a local nursing home.
Most Sundays, the cafe's worship service is crammed with 75 people. A follow-up brunch feeds as many as 175, Chevalier said. In the coming days, Cafe 1269 will host four Thanksgiving meals, along with give-aways of warm clothes and personal items.
And when he was 32, police sent him for psychiatric treatment after he held a knife on his girlfriend. Rheault's attitude at the Valley Street jail got him thrown in solitary confinement for months at a time. Once he received $20,000 from the county, claiming in a lawsuit he was deprived of psychiatric care while in The Hole. His mug shot features a nasty scowl protruding from a thick mustache and neatly combed gray hair.
Others saw the lovable side of Rheault.
Decades ago, Manchester resident Jamie Lee used to sneak out of her apartment to hit the bars. Once they threw her out, Rheault dragged her home, warning her against alcohol.
Robert Poole, a drinking buddy, said Rheault's nickname was Mumbles. He had no teeth, so although he'd speak a lot, it was hard to understand what he was saying. He had a "family" he spoke fondly of — children of a long-term, on-and-off girlfriend who died shortly before Rheault met Chevalier.
He'd give a hand to unload donations at the cafe. And Rheault directed donations of furniture, bedding and housewares to the people who he knew needed it the most. During worship services, he'd sit at a front table.
Two days after Rheault's death, Chevalier wrote about the inspiration he found in a scruffy, scowling street person. Some people didn't like Rheault, Chevalier wrote, but he was honest, trustworthy and reliable.
Mark Hayward's City Matters runs Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and on UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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