Homelessness in many Pennsylvania cities has been a growing issue, and getting worse during the pandemic.
In Altoona, one man’s encounter with a homeless man just before he lost his battle to drug addiction changed his life to the point he makes it his mission to help others in that position, in a movement named after his fallen friend.
After Josh Roland lost his friend Ben in 2019, he started Ben Blessed in his honor, to help other homeless people in Altoona just like him.
“Nobody ever has to suffer like I did or Ben did. We drive around four-to-five nights a week. We hand out food, backpacks full of supplies, we give out clothing.”
Josh Roland was sentenced to twenty-two months in prison in July 2019. Just after his friend Ben overdosed on Heroin that April.
“He was wandering the streets one day and we brought him home, we let him stay with us for awhile and we became really good friends, and he was just an amazing dude, he would do anything for anybody, he’d give you the shirt off his back.”
Now, with close friend Josh Krider, from their home base at Altoona’s Overflow Church, they help homeless people just like Ben with essential supplies every week.
Roland looked back at how he lived before his sentence
“I was on the streets, I was addicted to drugs and I got by on random acts of kindness from strangers that I had never met that would see me sitting outside stores and things like that.”
And he says he’s grown, and believes he is better for persevering through that rough chapter.
“Never would have been able to do what I’m doing now if I hadn’t gone through all of that. A lot of people look back on homelessness and jail and addiction with regret and think about how terrible it would be but I look at it as training for me to be able to do what I’m doing now.”
And he knows just how hard it is to survive and that he can make a difference.
“We bring help to them because it’s really hard to tell a homeless person ‘if you want a coat, you got to be here the third Saturday of the month between ten and two, and we’ll get you a coat…so we bring the help to them.”
If you wish to donate or get involved, search Ben Blessed Altoona on Facebook.