Richard Bernier grinned from ear to ear as he filled out his information on a form.
He paused for a moment … and then wrote down five numbers that he hasn’t had for a long time.
For the first time in three years, Richard Bernier has a zip code.
Richard “Richie” Bernier could once be found living on the streets of Manchester, New Hampshire.
He had no home. He had no belongings. He had no hope.
Just 14 months ago, every new day was a burden for him.
But now Bernier wakes up every morning and “thank[s] God” for the blue sky and the sunshine.
Bernier never anticipated he would become homeless. He grew up on Massabesic Lake, just outside Manchester. He had a loving family and a good education.
But the high school years are the most formidable.
During that time, Bernier felt like many high schoolers do — left out and unwanted. But he started walking with the wrong crowd, partying, drinking, and even using drugs. These events led to a long battle with addiction, and eventually, to homelessness.
At one point during his addiction, Bernier mustered the strength to get clean. He did it on his own, through rehab programs. His life seemed to be going great.
But after eleven years of sobriety, Bernier fell back into old habits after he had to have surgery and was prescribed Percocet, also known as Oxycodone, a highly addictive pain killer.
“I didn’t know I was addicted,” says Bernier. The ignorance toward addiction is common among most who suffer from it.
And like any addiction, it had to be satisfied. Bernier began using cocaine to feed his addiction. However, this soon caused him to go as far as selling his house to buy drugs.
Soon alleys, porches, and any couch he could crash on for the night became what he knew as “home.”
“I was 130 pounds. I was eating a frozen donut off the ground. I thought I was going to freeze to death beside a dumpster,” remarks Bernier.
The winters are especially hard for the homeless.
Bernier described the winters in New Hampshire as being the darkest and coldest times of his life — both physically and emotionally. Sometimes he would go to sleep at night wondering if he would ever wake up again — most times he wished he wouldn’t.
Homeless people go through much more physical and emotional trauma than the average person realizes. “I would unfortunately wake up,” says Bernier, describing his mental state during homelessness. “That’s sad when you don’t want to wake up. I gotta beg for food, go steal in a store. Everyone would look down on me. I didn’t know or think I would end up homeless.”
Bernier grew deeply depressed and recalls that feeling and how it affected him. “That depression started to set in at night. And it was more in the morning because I knew it would be like ground hog day.”
After three years, something miraculous happened.
Bernier sought the help of Henry Demers, founder of Harmony Home, a ministry for the homeless in Manchester.
“God got my attention and I reached out to people who knew Henry, I could not have kept living like I was living.”
Harmony Home works to re-home the homeless and set them up for success. Demers established Bernier in a rehabilitation program in California. “He looked like death the day I dropped him off. He says he was like a shell. No desire to live anymore,” remarks Demers.
Demers and the rehabilitation program gave Bernier a new hope.
Demers continues, “Today he is full of life, giving back. Helping others find recovery, serving at Harmony Home and just on his own, helping people he sees on the street.”
Now, Bernier walks the streets for a different reason.
Instead of looking for food, he’s handing it out. Bernier, now living in a studio apartment, goes out on the streets daily encouraging the homeless he meets there.
“They [people on the street] used to see me and they would scatter. Now they see me and they come … Today, I just go up the street and smile, and put my hand out and give someone a hug.”
God changed Bernier’s life miraculously.
As a new Christian, Bernier faithfully serves at Harmony Home ministry as well as volunteering at local churches.
He regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to continue his recovery. Bernier notes that the key to his stability has been surrounding himself with people that love him and have the same goals — loving the homeless and loving Jesus.
Bernier’s future plans are simple — stay sober and show the homeless the love of Christ.
As he continues to grow in his newly established life, he hopes to continue working in homeless ministry.
His goal is to “just do God’s work” and continue moving forward.
Currently, Bernier is just excited for where he has been placed, saying, “I just want to tell you, I’m so happy I have a zip code.”