BRADENTON -- The morning sunlight washed Mark Allender's face as he gazed out the window at the waterfowl gliding across the pond below his new second-story apartment.
The peaceful setting matched his mood.
"This is really nice," said Allender, 64. "I can be content with much, content with little, but I've got more than I need."
His new lease was much more than a piece of paper.
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It was a new lease on life for the homeless Vietnam veteran and recovering crack addict.
"Life is good today," he said.
John Smith shared in the joyful moment.
An AmeriCorps Vista veteran
community support coordinator and liaison with the Community Coalition on Homelessness, he helped Allender reach this personal threshold.
"Taking Mark from where he was four months ago to this stage, it's huge," Smith said.
A college graduate and retired employment specialist, Allender was languishing in a Bradenton crack house, the last stop in an on-again, off-again battle with substance abuse.
Crack cocaine was his drug of choice.
"I was a binge-user, like a binge-drinker," he said. "I can go months without. But when I used again it was like I never stopped. I'd get clean for awhile, but I'd relapse and I put distance between me and my loved ones. We addicts kid ourselves. We say we're only hurting ourselves. No we're not. There's family involved. Friends, too."
Thrice-married, Allender is the father of two and grandfather of four.
"You lead two lives," he said. "There are people you associate with when you're clean and people you associate with when you use."
It was last summer Allender hit bottom.
"When you run out of money and you look around at the filth and squalor of a crack house, you say what am I doing again?" he said.
That's what Smith asked when they met last summer.
Allender had driven a friend to the Bill Galvano One Stop Center, base of the Homeless Coalition, and was told that he could get assistance as a homeless vet.
"There are so many vets out there who desperately need help," Smith said. "These are people who went to bat for our country and we need to go to bat for them."
His persistence swayed Allender.
"John said, 'You need to get out of that place. Let me help you,'" he said. "You have to know how much people care before you care how much they know."
Allender got straight with the help of a church -- "I'm done. I want to meet my Maker clean." -- and bunked at the Salvation Army men's shelter. Then he got connected with HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, a program dealing with rental assistance for homeless veterans.
"When someone in need has nowhere else to go, when they come to the coalition this shows how you can take the steps to bring you back to being able to get affordable housing," said coalition volunteer coordinator Cheryl Hedger. "The people at the coalition are there to help clients make changes in their lives."
Smith witnessed the transformation, especially at Thanksgiving which Allender invited him to share with his own family.
"I thought for the first time in 10-15 years, Mark's going be able to say to his children and grandchildren, 'Come to my house,'" Smith said. "It's going to be a different life for him, a house he can be proud of."
First Allender needed furniture. Lots of it.
No problem, he joked.
"I'm not into Colonial or Swedish. I do curbside," he said, laughing. "I'm here. I'm set. I'm happy."
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix