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Documentary focuses on reaching the homeless

In an image from the 2007 documentary “Lost in Woonsocket,” Normand Cartier discusses going into detox with his “roommate” Mark (last name not given), as Cartier’s children look on.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*

Nov. 12, 2008 | PROVIDENCE, R.I .

Normand Cartier’s alcoholism separated him from his family for years. His addiction also left him with no place to live for three years. He had no faith in God. “A lot of people on the street believe that God did this to them,” he said. “God was not there to help them out so they lose belief.”

But now that he is sober, Cartier added, “I believe in God today. I am not here by myself. I did not put myself clean and sober. (God) granted me a second chance at life.”

It was his chance appearance on a network television show which led a new sobriety and a re-connection with his children, a story told in the award-winning documentary film, “Lost in Woonsocket.”

The key reason for homelessness is loss of family, according to the Rev. Brian Souza, a United Methodist pastor who provides a ministry that brings dignity to the person living on the street. Communities of faith can help fill the void by reaching out, he said.

Cartier and Souza, lead pastor of “The Rivers” United Methodist Communities, a multi-site church serving the Blackstone Valley, are among those featured in “Lost in Woonsocket,” a story of human transformation, perseverance and hope. Both spoke in October to the United Methodist Association of Communicators.

‘Random 1’ TV show

The 2007 film, a follow-up to a television show called Random 1, shows the homelessness, alcohol abuse and recovery Cartier and Mark (whose last name was not given). The television show’s premise was to select a person in need of help and then try to find someone willing to supply that help out of the goodness of their heart – without the TV crew providing any money or direct assistance.

The Rev. Brian Souza stands by the
catering truck used by the Mobile
Loaves and Fishes program to
help feed the homeless. 

After the show’s producers ran into homeless and alcoholic Mark, they threw out the rulebook to get him some assistance. Mark also introduced them to his friend Normand, who was featured in some of film’s cold, wintery scenes.

When Mark’s story aired, the show’s producers received an e-mail from Cartier’s son, who recognized him as the father he and his two siblings had not seen in 13 years. After Random 1 was canceled in 2005, Mark and Cartier’s story was turned into the “Lost in Woonsocket” film, chronicling the efforts to help both men achieve sobriety and re-connect with their friends, family and a society that shunned them.

In the film, Mark relapses, loses his way and once again becomes homeless. However, the documentary’s emotional perspective spawned a grassroots movement called “Lost and Found in America,” whose mission is to “change the way our country offers to help those who are homeless or are afflicted with addictions.” With Cartier as the principal spokesperson, the film is a fundraising and awareness tool for recovery, homeless and faith-based organizations.

Souza runs the Matthew 25 Center, a gathering place offering meals and worship opportunities to the homeless. It is at the center where the lives of Souza, a former law enforcement investigator, Cartier and Mark intersected.

“The idea was that God was at work in this thing,” Souza said. “God destined this to happen and it really kind of opened some doors for us as a church to be able to speak to people about the problems of homelessness in the area and the problems with the addiction community.”

‘An amazing ride’

The documentary and everything leading up to it was “an amazing ride,” according to Souza. The church received a truck to make its feeding ministry mobile. Each day, the mobile ‘Loaves and Fishes” serves the hungry, hurting, poor, the least and lost.

Cartier discusses the documentary during the United Methodist Association of Communicators meeting in Providence, R.I.

In addition to serving food and providing toiletries, numerous United Methodists involved in the ministry “bring dignity to the human person out there on the street,” he added. Church members across the country are involved in loaves and fishes ministries to help the homeless in their cities and towns.

Quoting Mother Theresa, Souza noted that poverty is often thought of as only being about hungry, naked or homeless. “Poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty of all,” he said. People of faith can reach out and become family to those who are homeless and to those who suffer from addictions, he said.

Cartier believes that churches and people who feed the homeless and talk to them on a daily basis offer hope, a sense of belief and trust. “They start changing and start believing in themselves,” he explained. “A happy hello, a smile and a handshake means a lot to a homeless person.”

Through Lost and Found in America, Cartier tells his and Mark’s story around the world and directs homeless people to various organizations to enable them to “have the same chance that I was given.” He encouraged others who have been through recovery and “opened their hearts to the Lord” to help spread the word to those in the street.

Homeless ministry “is not for the faint of heart,” Souza said. “It is a ministry where you have to show what you are talking about is real.”

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Normand Cartier: “I believe in God today. I’m not here by myself."

Normand Cartier: "I get on my knees in the morning. I ask him to keep me away from a drink and a drug all day long."

The Rev. Brian Souza: "Hey, there’s a restaurant across the street. Meet me over there and I’ll buy you something to eat."

The Rev. Brian Souza: "I’m just being available and all of those things are happening."

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