ANNAPOLIS -- The thin man in the black tuxedo really was Joseph Bishop, sitting there before his consomme of duck with confit ravioli and surrounded by enough fancy silverware to sink a skiff -- the same Joseph Bishop who, three weeks ago, counted himself among the homeless.
Tuesday, he counted himself among 200 guests at the Loews Annapolis Hotel for a nine-course banquet to benefit the Light House shelter in Annapolis. This summer, the 45-year-old man called the shelter home.
Mr. Bishop showed up at the West Street shelter June 5 without a job, money or a place to stay. He had been living with friends for more than a year and had run out of options.
When a shelter counselor asked him what he wanted, he could think of only two things: a job and a home.
"They asked me what I wanted out of life," he said at the hotel dinner. "When I got to the Light House, I already knew I wanted to get a job. I had stopped drinking. I was ready. . . . They gave me some stability. They worked with me and helped me achieve my goals."
Light House director Joseph Rock said the shelter tries to give homeless people more than just a place to sleep.
"We're a case-management shelter," he said. "We help people ** make plans, set goals. We want to help them regain self-sufficiency."
Within a week and a half, with the shelter's help, Mr. Bishop landed a job as a housekeeping aide at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Annapolis.
A couple of weeks later, the shelter offered him a second job as an overnight front-desk monitor.
From June 5 to Aug. 31, Mr. Bishop rose from his bed in a Light House dormitory weekdays and took a bus to work at the Marriott. He saved his money, thinking about getting his own place. Three weeks ago, he moved into his own apartment in Annapolis, the first real home he has had in almost two years. He continues to spend five nights a week at the shelter as night monitor.
"He's just done phenomenally well," Mr. Rock said. "He's a great success story. But I want to say that most of our guests are able to get some help and some resources and move on. We have many success stories here."
Until 1990, things were going pretty well for Mr. Bishop, a Vietnam veteran who has an associate's degree in business and who held a $28,000 a year job at Giant Food in Annapolis as a porter. He had bought a house with a friend, but his drinking problem caused constant friction.
When his friend asked him to move out, he started living with various friends. He lost his job at Giant as his personal problems became overwhelming.
"It's very hard to work when you don't have a roof over your head," he said, standing in the lobby of the Loews Annapolis Tuesday.
He had just gotten up from a table set for 10 people with elegant china, three wineglasses for each diner and ice sculptures of cornucopia filled with fresh fruit, which served as centerpieces.
"In years past, we went out like this," said Mr. Bishop, who wears large glasses that contribute to his scholarly appearance. "But I'd say it's been a while since I've had this many courses."
Guests attending Tuesday night's dinner didn't know there was a Light House success story among them. But several said that helping people turn their lives around is the reason they showed up.
"Anything that can raise money to help the homeless is terrific," said Nancy Shults, a dinner guest who also volunteers at the shelter. "Absolutely, it's ironic having this kind of a meal. But when it raises this kind of money and brings the community together to work on this problem, it's worth it."
The dinner, a coordinated effort of nearly 150 volunteers and dozens of county businesses, raised about $15,000 to benefit the 22-bed shelter, about the same amount raised at the first banquet last year.
Almost all of the food and drink was donated. Fifteen chefs called their suppliers and asked them to support the cause. Loews contributed the use of the ballroom and atrium, and the hotel's waiters and bartenders volunteered their services.
Just three weeks ago, Mr. Bishop took his meals in the shelter dining hall, where the menu was more limited and the attire considerably less formal.
"It does seem kind of strange," he said, referring to his presence at a benefit for the homeless. "But maybe with me being here, by telling my story, it will give others hope."