I set out recently to find a Thanksgiving story — you know, the kind where somebody tells you what they’re thankful for.

Scott Canney, photographed recently at Head of Falls on the banks of the Kennebec River in Waterville, is living in a homeless shelter and says he is just thankful to be alive as he works toward getting a more permanent place to live. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

It was a raw, rainy day and a handful of people were milling about under the gazebo at Head of Falls on the banks of the Kennebec River in Waterville.

I approached them and explained what I was after. A slight man with a gray beard and hair didn’t hesitate to respond.

“I’m thankful for being alive,” he said.

Scott Canney, 59, said his landlord in North Anson told him he had to leave the trailer he was living in because it was to be sold. Canney came to Waterville on Aug. 31 and lived in a tent in the woods off Kennedy Memorial Drive before he finally got into the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter on Nov. 2, he said.

Canney is on disability and receives MaineCare and Medicare because of an injury he received in 2010, he said.

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“I fell off a roof and broke both my legs, split my hip and broke my right arm. They had to re-break my left leg. They said I’d never walk again and I proved them wrong.”

Growing up in Lewiston, the middle child of 11, Canney had a tough time. His father worked at a Country Kitchen bakery and his mother was a nurse, he said.

“When I was 7, I got hit by a car and a truck while I was getting out of school. I came across the street and I didn’t look where I was going. I was in a body cast for 18 months.”

His childhood was filled with violence as his father was an alcoholic and beat him and his siblings, he said.

“He wasn’t a good guy at all. I’m glad he passed away in 1991. He drank a lot of sloe gin. He would send us kids out to Kennedy Park in Lewiston to get a tree limb so he could hit us with it.”

When Canney was 10, he got in trouble and was placed in a youth center for six years, he said.

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“I started a fire in an abandoned building just to stay warm. The propane got too hot and got some cardboard on fire.”

He left Maine and moved around, he said, working in kitchens in Washington state doing food prep and washing dishes. He spent time in Alaska crabbing and when he came back to Maine, he studied mental health at Kennebec Valley Community College, University of Maine at Augusta and Thomas College. He has two daughters, one in Indiana and another in the Franklin County town of Carthage, he said.

Recently, Canney tore a rotator cuff and fractured his collar bone.

“I missed the curb and went right down and kissed the road,” he said.

As he spoke and the rain kept pounding on the gazebo roof, another man joined the group. I recognized him immediately as Andrew Zelonis, 49, whom I had interviewed several times, including once at the former Waterville Social Club just before it closed.

Zelonis, who has a mental disability, and Canney, are best friends. Both are working with homeless shelter officials to obtain vouchers for housing, since Zelonis lost his apartment six weeks ago when funding from Kennebec Valley Community Action Program ended.

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“With this housing crisis right now, me and Scott will have to go together to afford an apartment,” Zelonis said.

He and Canney spend their days on the streets because they can be in the homeless shelter only from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., they said. When it is cold, like it was Sunday, they just try to stay out of the elements.

They eat meals at The Lighthouse, a soup kitchen that opened in April at 38 College Ave. and is run by Carla Caron.

“She knows all about the homelessness,” Zelonis said. “The Lighthouse looks like a restaurant. You’re welcomed with open arms, and you’re loved. Scott needed a ride the other day and Carla drove him to the bank. She loves people. She won’t give you any money, but she’ll feed you and make sure there’s something in your belly.”

The men said they will eat Thanksgiving dinner at the soup kitchen. They are thankful for that place, they said, and hope they will soon have another reason to be thankful.

“I have a wish that I had a house,” Zelonis said. “I would be thankful for that. When I had an apartment, I would cook and we’d eat. It was a place where we could go. A place to be safe.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear here weekly. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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