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THE NIGHT PERSON

You'd have to use a bayonet to keep Tom Harmon away from his Night People Drop-In Center, and even that might not work. Call it the Mother Teresa syndrome, such is the degree of his commitment. But there is an explanation: Harmon has been there.

You've had a rough life.

True and not true. For three years I had a very bad time, indeed. But I sobered up at the age of 38 and then it was a slow, steady, hand-over-hand climb.

You were an alcoholic?

One is always an alcoholic. I'm only one drink away from a drunk. I've been sober for a little over 10 years.

When did you hit bottom?

On the 3rd of November 1979 I had my last drink. I had the clothes on my back. I had a broken pocket watch and 42 cents. No place to live, destitute of friends. I had no faith; I'll never forget it. I was the sickest I'd ever been in my life. Nasty looking.

And look at you now.

There's been quite a change, yes, but it doesn't occur overnight.

You're so serious.

Yes. My mother says I was born an old man. The perfectionist, but I assure you I have a sense of humor.

You're a saint.

No. When I was growing up, I was a critical, disbelieving kid and my dad would always call be "doubting Thomas." I would always see the less than truthful side.

What role has religion played in your life?

Until I was 16, I bought the whole package. The church was magical and mystical. I was very much swept up in it until adolescence; rebellion happened. By the time I was 18 or 19, I counted myself as a person who had no faith. But that has changed.

You spend an awful lot of time at the shelter.

I'm into another "ism." From alcoholism to workaholism. That's not really unusual. A manifestation of an addictive personality.

You seem to see life as a textbook.

You're probably right. Although I have a wealth of experience -- I've seen the smiling face and the pimpled fanny of society -- most of my life has been spent at a desk with a book. I have the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library to thank for my education.

Where do you live?

I've always lived in poor places. I recently remarried. My wife is a steady, serious type and she likes to build houses. We have recently moved into a new home and it's the nicest place I've lived in for 20 years. Sometimes I'll be sitting there on the lovely sofa looking at the cathedral ceiling and think to myself how incongruous this is. I wonder if the neighbors know they have the head bum living in their neighborhood.

Does Tom Harmon have bad days?

When I'm frightened, I'm not at my best. When I'm under a lot of pressure I can lose it. I snap at clients sometimes.

Is it ever a chore to come to work?

There are days I don't look forward to, but I come in and then something happens to put me in a better frame of mind. There are parts of this job that are ugly. I've been beaten up and I sometimes think I could be killed. We have recently acquired the two most powerful enemies that you can have on the street: drug dealers and the police.

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