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Archive for June, 2008

The homeless are people, first of all, and some people are lazy.  To say, however that all homeless people are lazy is unkind.  I watch many of my clients expend huge amounts of time and energy just to reclaim some basics: filling prescriptions, obtaining a birth certificate or social security card, or applying for food stamps.  Getting a set of glasses, for one client, took about six hours because she had a long bus wait and a long bus ride each way.  That’s a long time to go without a meal!

We really should look at the individual because there are different homeless people out there, not just one big group of “lazy homeless people.”  It’s an unfair stereotype, really.

The clients here at the Center for Respite Care are homeless and sick, so they have to navigate crazy bus schedules, medical/social work appointments, and answering some bigger questions about what comes next.  I won’t deny laziness in some, but I refuse to label them as a group.  If you met a lazy accountant, would you assume that all other accountants are lazy?  I hope that you would not.  Take the same approach with homeless people.

In the Center for Respite Care lobby, there is a sign that reads, “Homelessness is a situation, not an identity.”  None of us are immune to this situation, either, and realizing this helps build compassion.  I’m not saying there aren’t lazy homeless people, I’m saying that there are lazy people in all walks of life.  That doesn’t mean we can’t feel compassion for them.

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Next Monday is a big day for the Center for Respite Care!  We’ve decided to implement a light exercise program for our clients.  With our physician’s permission, clients are going to spend 15 minutes a day walking in the park across the street.  We’re ready too – water bottles were the giveaway at last week’s game day.  And word on the street is that yours truly is going to lead the warm-ups.  I’ll let you know how it goes!  Hopefully it will get us all into a more motion-oriented mind frame.

In the meantime, lend a hand to the homeless in this heat!  Carry an extra water bottle to pass out to the homeless you encounter.  If we don’t look out for one another, who will? 

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Being ill and trying to break the cycle of homelessness are big tasks.  Many of our homeless clients have troubled pasts, and much work awaits them in breaking down old barriers.  Simple things that the rest of us take for granted, such as having forms of identification, present barriers to those who are homeless and sick.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick, I don’t feel like doing anything!  In any case, just tracking down a birth certificate can be a gargantuan task.

Luckily, today is Game Day Friday.  For the last couple weeks, we’ve used our group sessions on Fridays to play pictionary with the clients, rather than bingo (another favorite).  I stopped upstairs this week to have some fun with the clients and get a chance to interact with them outside our usual dealings.  It was great to see everyone relaxed and laughing.  Ok, there was some arguing too, but that’s part of the game. 

Over the past few months, we’ve had a couple clients with amazing artistic abilities, and they’re killer pictionary players!  Most of us, however, were simply united by our inability to draw.  Stick figures, anyone?

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Special thanks and Friday cheer go out today to The Greater Cincinnati Health Council, which donated nine flower arrangements today to provide some springtime color here at the Center for Respite Care.  We had enough for each client bedroom, the lobby, and offices.  Flowers are a great example of the kind of unconventional donation that can really make a difference. 

You might think that a nonprofit providing medical care to the homeless wouldn’t have a need for flowers, but that’s not true.  To have something beautiful nearby is like a little sigh of relief at the end of a busy week.  Our clients are working hard at pulling their lives back together, and staff members are busy helping them and keeping the Respite running, but we all appreciate having a chance to step back and smell the roses, as they say, if only for a moment. 

Now, back to work!

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Homeless people typically don’t have much furniture.  Even those homeless men and women who once had apartments typically lose their belongings upon eviction.  I’ve had a lot of calls about furniture donations lately, and wanted to address the best way to donate your gently used furniture to the Center for Respite Care or another agency serving the homeless in Cincinnati. 

The Center for Respite Care uses furniture as part of Respite Permanent Housing, but we don’t accept furniture donations for our homeless clients.  Why not?  Because space is at a premium in our facility and even with a storage unit, we just don’t have the space or the manpower to process furniture donations. 

This is where New Life Furniture comes in.  New Life is a nonprofit in Cincinnati that assists families in need by providing gently used furniture to help make their house a home.  Every weekend, this great group picks up donations of gently used furniture and delivers them to those in need.  They’ve been an amazing help to our clients (see their May 3, 2008 blog entry at the last link), who enter our housing program often with only a tiny amount of clothing and personal items.  Without the help of Tim and Holly, the founders of New Life, we would have little means of furnishing apartments for all the clients in RPH.

If you have furniture to donate, please consider New Life Furniture!  Remember to check their list of acceptable items and donate only those items that are still in good working condition, without rips or tears.

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Cincinnati weather has been crazy lately!  This morning, I had to wait for tornado sirens to go off just to leave the house.  The blackened sky was an ominous threat to everyone’s rush hour commute.  (Plus, I left my umbrella at work!)  Now, our clients are hanging out on the porch, basking in brilliant sunlight.  It’s amazing how quickly our sky can change.

Watching this transformation made me think about the clients here because many of them undergo similar “night and day” changes in the short time they are with us. 

Homelessness is a lonely way to live.  It really is.  When our clients arrive at the Center for Respite Care, how do they know that they can trust us?  They can, of course, but they don’t always know that.  And so they are mistrustful at first. 

Over time, we get to see more of our client’s personalities.  They learn that we’re here to help break down the barriers and help them pull the pieces of their lives back together. 

In some ways, we’re lucky.  Other shelters with different funding and different objectives host the homeless for limited, if any, daytime hours.  They don’t know if clients will come back and they don’t get the chance to sit and chat with their clients as much as we do.  Our clients are recovering from acute medical issues, so they stay at our facilities 24 hours a day minus a few appointments and trips to the store.

Every day I watch these transformations, and it’s amazing.  Just the difference in physical appearance from when these men and women arrive until when they leave is enough to prove lives are being changed.

It’s a decision on their part, too.  Not every client experiences this transformation, but one strength of our program is that the time spent here is truly a respite.  They have a chance to sit down and think about their choices, values, strengths, and weaknesses.  They’re away from their normal surroundings and companions.  For some, that makes all the difference because while our primary goal is physical healing, we don’t want our clients to just heal and walk out the door.  We want them to find themselves along the way.

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