A Hartford police officer is working to save lives of some of the area’s most vulnerable residents.
Officer Jim Barrett has become a champion for the invisible.
“The people like on 84 and 91 they have no idea of the underground homeless community that is underneath them. this is where they sleep at night. this is their home,” Barrett said.
Barrett showed NBC Connecticut a certain spot in Hartford some call home. He said six people usually sleep there at night. Sometimes there are families. Some of them even have jobs.
"This is their temporary home,” Barrett explained. “From a middle-class neighborhood to this, to hard times."
Before Barrett began tracking down Hartford’s homeless, he served 21 years in the army. As a sergeant, Barrett learned core values that he carries into his police work.
“To guide them and support to better themselves and their life goals,” Barrett said.
In 2015, when he met a homeless veteran named Joseph Edwards in Hartford in the dead of winter wearing only flip-flops, he took action.
"Within a couple of days we exchanged numbers. He called me and he had some shoes, a coat, stuff like, and ever since then we've been friends,” Edwards said.
That chance encounter inspired Barrett. His work with the homeless helped inspire the creation of Footwear With Care fundraisers for those in need. But he said the stories of how people end up homeless are not one size fits all.
“Everybody’s story is different and the thing is you have to take the time to know every individual who has a need,” Barrett said.
Barrett often forges relationships with those impacted by homelessness on his own time and with his own money.
"You gotta give them the tools because if you don't give them the tools they won’t succeed," Barrett said.
Some who he’s worked with call him “the neighborhood superman.”
“He's making me move forward....he's helping with schooling and helping me find jobs. I didn't have that before,” said Carrie Soules of Hartford.
Soules said the death of her parents and drug addiction led her to being homeless for the last nine and a half years.
“I'm a recovering addict too, but I want to help myself. I don't want to be in jail - for what? When we got an officer that's pushing us the right way,” Soules said.
Barrett said for the homeless to escape the environment, they often need to hit rock bottom before he can help them get their lives back on track.
“If they’re serious, if they give me 100 percent, I give them 120. If they give me 80 percent, don’t waste my time, I’m not going to waste your time,” Barrett said.
Jim Urbon made the effort and is not off the streets and off the bottle. He holds down a maintenance job in Hartford and didn’t hold back his appreciation for Barrett.
“It's tough. When I got out of rehab he helped me a lot,” Urbon said. “Got me boots, he gets me anything I needed,” he added.
These are the stories that motivate Barrett and many of his colleagues to help the homeless.
“For me when I see them excel it's like better than a Christmas gift for me,” Barrett said.
Those Barrett has helped can get emotional talking about his impact.
“He got me what I needed at the time I needed it,” Urbon said.
“Officer Barrett showed me how to keep my courage and when I fall down to get back up,” Edwards said.
Barrett said there are approximately 1,000 people who are homeless in Hartford, and he works with about half of them.
“This is my community. They embrace me as part of their family,” he said.