“The one who bears the sore of leprosy
shall keep his garments rent and his head bare,
and shall muffle his beard;
he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’
As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean,
since he is in fact unclean.
He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with compassion, he stretched out his hand,
We just want to let you all know that Kenny Halleman —Ken of Camden’s Ken and Barbie— died Thursday night or Friday morning in his sleep (February 5/6 2015). He and Barbie had been spending dangerously cold, “code blue” nights at New Life Ministries Shelter in Camden. New Visions’ Kevin Moran let us know when he found out early Friday morning. Naturally Barbie is having a hard time.
The last time I saw them, they were camped out in the garden on the Market Street side of the Cathedral property—just outside Fr. Matt’s office window. I saw people from a distance and started to ask them to leave. The week before police had moved individuals out of that side yard who were using drugs. One had overdosed, and an ambulance had to come.
When I got closer and realized it was Kenny and Barbara, I back-tracked—“no, no, no; you stay. We know you guys. I’m sorry you’re out here.” We had a pleasant conversation. Barbie was excited to have discovered there is a port-a-potty across the street in the bank parking lot. Her excitement was kind of cute—yet at the same time it was sad that discovery of a place to go to the bathroom would be something to be particularly happy about. They had a program that would get them housing beginning sometime in February, he said. And they told me Ken got new teeth. He smiled revealing a mouthful of happy, shinny teeth.
I am very glad that this last encounter was positive. You may know that my attempt at “tough love” over two years ago, trying to convince them they did not have to leave their apartment, (“with my own key and a remote,” as Ken described it). Despite my reasoning and hard line, they still left and moved into a Camden “tent city.” Ken lost his DSW job, and we grew distant.
But in this last meeting three weeks before his death, I got to experience Ken’s typical good nature. Even camping outside in unforgiving weather, owning nothing but the blankets, clothing, and food collected from various sources, he shared good humor and calm.
I’m looking to find something profound, some meaning, to share thinking about this 55 year old man dying in a shelter. I spent a lot of time with Ken—but never got inside his mind, and he never really even shared his history except in the most general and flexible of terms. When asked how long he had been homeless; the answer was always, “Oh, twenty, thirty years; ten, forty years.”
There is no doubt his interactions with DSW ——including with you all—— were a good experience in his life. His talks and his presence with groups in our North Camden volunteer house, at work sites, and walking between State Street and the Cathedral enabled people from middle class worlds to meet someone from a different world. Ken could not read; he did not have much awareness of or confidence in modern science or medicine. The volunteers the Oblate sponsored here came from very different backgrounds and spoke a very different languages from Ken Hollamon—-yet he connected with students and adults. I think his good humor and a gentleness made that happen.
For me one of the hardest aspects of dealing with Ken was that we are exactly the same age, born in 1959, six months apart. Yet our lives were so different. I seemed to have all the advantages: education, middle-class life style, expectations, supports, and safety net. Ken had none of that. Most of the time I knew him he lived outside, dependent on the organization and charity of others. He could not read and spoke what linguists have named African American Vernacular English —-so encounters with any sort of paper work, government, or law were fraught with misunderstanding and suspicion. As a peer and as his “boss” (as he put it) I tried to avoid feeling over and above and tried to highlight the wisdom and skills that he had gained from living.
Can you hear him saying a firm, “Barbara. Barbara.” to his “crazy girl” when she interrupted or chimed in during his presentations? Maybe you can hear the advice he gave so many student groups to go home and camp out in their backyards to try to understand the experience homeless people. Can you hear him making the point that really anyone from any background could end up on the streets——or addicted, lost, hungry, or desperate? Can we be moved like Jesus in the gospel with compassion? Can we stretch out our hand to the person on the margins?—- And in every place do we find a neighbor?
Sunday night Barbie was a Joseph’s House shelter. Friends got her there. We were glad to see people looking out for her; glad she was not alone. We just want to let you know. Please pray for Kenneth Halliman, his Mom, and Barbara. In Ken’s memory “be aware of your surroundings,” and keep reaching out to the neighbor where ever you find yourself.
Thanks, Fr. Mike, for your words about Kenny. In the four years we brought groups to Camden, he was a profound part of our experience. I was so grateful for the sense of safety and protection he offered to our young people when we were there, and grateful for the friendship he offered to me in our conversations. He was the face of Christ for many people… he will be missed. Ken, and Barbie, and all of you are in our prayers.
Peace, Steve DeLaney
A true blessing to all of us who have been to Camden especially the year(s)-long volunteers who became family with Ken. I will never forget the life lessons he taught me and the true Salesian Gentleness that he embodies. It was an honor to know and work with him. May the Lord welcome him with open arms. I can hear Kenny asking Jesus…”How’s Mom and Dad!?”
I love Camden; of course I hate the pain, the crime, the poverty, the ugliness, the fear that haunts those often abandoned streets with their crumbling boarded up homes (some with squatters) and broken sidewalks littered with the detritus of broken lives. But as Father Mike once wrote, so many denizens of Camden frequently have nowhere to turn except to God who has ever made Himself present to and in the poor. Perhaps it is that reliance on God that makes them attractive, but I would also argue that, especially in the case of Kenny and Barbie, it was authenticity–even though I assume that they and their companions know how to assume the roles that living on the street requires. And so the people I encountered in Camden, and it was Kenny whom I knew best, were simply people I really liked. And in Kenny’s case, trusted completely. More than once he was the Good Shepherd who guided us around the city, often saying as Father Mike mentioned, “be aware.”
I always thought that someone should write down Kenny’s story, and more or less create his resume, even take him on a lecture circuit to share his life, but it seems that he wouldn’t have been interested for reasons we will never know. I do know that the students whom I chaperoned to Camden took Kenny’s admonitions to go to school and listen to their parents to heart; they believed him and didn’t require any documentation of his life. They knew the real deal when they came across it.
Rest in the Lord, Kenny. You belong to Him.
I was pained to read of Kenny’s death. Our Wisconsin group was in Camden more than two years ago, but the mere mention of Kenny’s name brought back vivid memories of a kind and gentle man whose own life had been, in many ways, the opposite of the goodness that he brought into the lives of others.
May God grant him eternal peace. Also, I pray for Barbie, and for everyone who grieves for Kenny.