Shelter a safe place for people in need

Brad Latocha came to the local shelter after using up his eligibility at a halfway house in Bald Eagle, then a three-quarter house in Altoona. Latocha is two years sober and working at Goodwill in Park Hills Plaza. He’s looking for additional work so that he can get a place of his own. Mirror photo by William Kibler

As a supervisor for the homeless shelter operated near the former Bon Secours hospital by Family Services Inc., Bryan Lytle has had to turn away many potential residents.

“It’s hard,” Lytle said recently, standing outside the front door with resident Brad Latocha.

It could get easier if Family Services can raise sufficient funds to replace the 16-bed shelter with a 35-bed facility at a still-undisclosed location in Altoona — a plan revealed recently by Family Services Executive Director Lisa Hann.

At the Bon Secours-area shelter, Lytle seeks to provide an oasis of positivity to people who may be floundering in a lake of negativity.

There are lots more people who stand to benefit from such service if the organization succeeds in executing its project, Hann said.

Brad Latocha, a native of Portage, raised in Gallitzin and a 2002 graduate of Penn Cambria High School, came to the shelter after using up his eligibility at a halfway house in Bald Eagle, then a three-quarter house in Altoona.

Latocha, who has struggled with alcohol, is two years sober, but is dogged by memories of his father, who took his own life 15 years ago.

His father had been depressed, had four herniated discs from a car crash, had used money from a settlement to buy prescription meds under the table to ease his pain and was a defendant in a lawsuit that also stemmed from the crash, according to Latocha.

Latocha and his mother — who had left his father, though probably not for good — found his body alongside a .22 caliber handgun, a week and a half after he’d done it.

There were multiple notes, including one that blamed Brad.

When they found him, Brad picked up the gun, pointed it at his own head and pulled the trigger.

The gun was empty, as his father had loaded just one bullet.

They sat together with the body for two hours before calling the coroner.

His mother has never wanted to talk about it.

Brad hasn’t gotten over it.

It started him drinking in earnest, and it has led to nightmares and flashbacks in which he sees reflections of his father.

Brad suffers from depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he said.

Nevertheless, he’s two years sober, working at Goodwill in Park Hills Plaza 28 hours a week as a floor associate and truck jockey, and he’s looking for full-time work — or another part-time job — so he can get a place of his own and contribute to the support of his three children, each to different mothers.

He’s looking to graduate from DUI court in three months.

And he’s hoping to work with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to enhance his job prospects.

They are promising, as he learned welding at Admiral Peary Area Vocational-Technical School in Cresson and honed that skill working at Altoona Pipe & Steel.

He’s hoping that a foreman who knew him at that job may help him get work in a plant nearby where the foreman now works.

Brad’s case has been referred to Blair County Community Action Agency for “rapid rehousing,” Lytle said.

“I’m trying to do the next right things,” said the soft-spoken Latocha, who sat in Lytle’s office recently, answering questions in detail and with patience.

He’s looking forward to leaving the shelter and stabilizing his life, so that his children can stay overnight with him, he said.

“He’s on the way,” Lytle said. “He has a good, bright future.”

One thing he needs to work on, however — and it might seem tricky — is to reverse his habit of taking onto himself too many of the troubles of others, in a way that goes far beyond empathy, according to Lytle.

He needs to focus instead on the future, and on the good things that can happen, Lytle said.

He needs to be positive, relentlessly positive, according to Lytle.

“I’m getting there,” Latocha said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.