Archive for the ‘nonprofit’ Category

Yesterday was the kickoff for Cover the Uninsured Week 2009.  Most of the patients at the Respite are uninsured.  In fact, if you receive our print newsletter, you would’ve already read a story about Walter, who became homeless as a result of his wife’s bills for breast cancer treatment.  (If you’d like to receive our print newsletter, email your address to respitesupport AT zoomtown DOT com).

The link between lack of health insurance and bankruptcy is clear: a 2001 Harvard study found medical bills to be a leading cause of personal bankruptcy.  And even those with health insurance may find  that their coverage isn’t sufficient to face major or chronic illness.  Student health plans, “mini med” plans, and limited liability coverage can offer lower premiums, but seldom afford the protection needed to weather catastrophic (or even serious) illness.

In November 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported on inflated medical bills received by Jim Dawson of Merced, CA.  After exceeding a $1.5 million lifetime maximum benefit on his health coverage, Dawson was slammed with $1.2 of grossly inflated medical charges.  Dawson’s charges were removed after the medical center received an inquiry from the Wall Street Journal, but few of my homeless clients are lucky enough to have a major media outlet report on their behalf!

It’s a problem from any angle: the same Wall Street Journal article noted that the hospital admitted its charges were necessarily inflated to account for the 2/3 of issued charges it would never collect.  And physicians’ skyrocketing malpractice insurance costs have forced some M.D.s to leave the medical world.  A New Hampshire emergency physician shares this perspective.

Many of the patients at the Respite have experienced the horrors of a lack of medical care.  When a medical concern arises, they typically wait until it becomes urgent to seek emergency care.  Even if they do seek medical attention early, homeless patients may be forced to wait until their illness or injury becomes an emergency so that they can qualify for free or subsidized services. 

Clearly, our healthcare system needs improvement.  I don’t want to discount the low-cost, free, and subsidized services provided so generously in the Greater Cincinnati region.  Low-cost medical and dental clinics and relief from hospital bills are services that homeless men and women rely on.  Still, there is much work to be done in improving healthcare for the homeless.  Cover the Uninsured Week is just one more great reason to mention it.


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How about five hundred daffodils? 


Luckily, I had a wonderful volunteer (one of those ones who can do anything!) come in and help me cut the ends off these.  They come courtesy of a generous friend via the American Cancer Society’s Daffodil Days.  Now that’s leveraging your gift!  And they’re going to be so beautiful when they all open up, just like these:


Yeah, yeah.   My desk is messy.  But today I helped a sick person get a referral to the Respite, and now he’s a patient here.  It all works out in the end.  Despite economic woes and car troubles and family problems and dinners that burn on the stove, there are sometimes flowers at the end of the day.

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Reading other blogs about homelessness is a curious thing.  There are blogs by those who are or have been homeless, those who work or volunteer with a homeless clientele, and blogs about other topics that mention homelessness once in a while (typically when the author has an encounter with a homeless person).

The most frequently commented upon blog articles seem to be those about an individual’s first night of homelessness.  I admit, I frequently leave comments on these articles myself.

Why is it that we’re so sympathetic to the person who experiences their first day of homelessness, but callous toward the person who has been homeless for months or years?  It’s a matter of perspective.  The person spending a stray night in a homeless shelter could well be us, we think.  

What if we lost our jobs and had a concurrent major illness?  What if a loved one (or ones) passed away suddenly?  What if . . . whatever combination of tragedies it might take.  I think we’ve all had thoughts that it could be us.  For some it might take more tragedies than others, but the possibility is there.

In considering the chronically homeless person, we’re less sympathetic.  Why?  Because we believe we cannot sink to that level.  We would pull ourselves out or find help somehow.

We may be able to make the leap to understanding who someone (even ourselves) can become homeless, but we believe that if you’re homeless for more than a few weeks, well, you must just be lazy.  Or ignorant.  Or an addict.  Why don’t they just get jobs after all?  Or just apply for the loads of benefits we finance through our taxes?  Or get social security?

We fail to consider the psychological effects of life on the streets.  It takes many of our clients several days to warm up to staff at the Respite and our mission is to help them.  Imagine how difficult they find it to reconnect with family and friends.

And all those “free benefits”?  True, they’re out there.  But how long can you afford to wait?  It can take weeks to qualify for food stamps, months to gain tenant-based rental assistance, and years to be awarded social security disability.

As for employment, would you hire someone who admitted to being homeless?  How about someone who claimed to have stable housing, but was mysteriously never home when you called?  Would you hire someone with dirty fingernails or ragged clothing?  Maybe you would.  Then again, maybe you’d prefer to hire the clean-cut teenager who made the honor roll last quarter.

Are we really as impervious as we believe?  Or is the hard truth that homelessness, once it happens, can be nearly impossible to escape?  How many of these truths do we ignore because they are simply too frightening to accept?

The ultimate truth is surely more complex, but everytime I read comment-loaded articles about an individual’s first terrifying night as a homeless person, I wonder.

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving!  And what could be more wonderful than a holiday with so much great food involved?  Even for me, an admittedly mediocre chef, friends, family and (admittedly again) food take center stage.  I quizzed all available staff and clients to put together a new “complete the phrase” activity about Thanksgiving.  The query was one with which you may be familiar . .

I’m thankful for .  .  .

. . .friends and family.

. . .that there is a place like Respite.

. . .opportunities.

. . .God*, who gave me another chance to start over here at the Respite, and new beginnings.

. . .the Lord who is watching over me, keeping me clean and sober, and who brought me here.

. . .blue skies and sunshine.

. . .that I have the Lord and for everything I have, although I hope some things will improve.

. . .faith, family, friends, food, forgiveness, and fudge.

Also, we’re thankful to our extended “family” of volunteers, donors, supporters, staff members, friends, board members, and those who follow us online or via newsletter.  Your support is incredible and we are incredibly thankful for it.  Happy Thanksgiving to all!

*The Respite is secular and we welcome a diverse set of men and women with varying beliefs and backgrounds.  The intention here is to let each client’s voice be heard, not to promote a particular belief system.

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I had an opportunity today to witness many Respite supporters, clients, and friends in action today during shooting for an upcoming promotional video produced by Media Bridges, to whom we owe a thousand thanks!  In order to get a balanced perspective, we gathered shelter clients, housing clients, volunteers, staff, and everyone in-between to share their thoughts on camera.

I was half-hoping to avoid the spotlight, but found myself sitting in front of the camera after all.  It wasn’t so bad.  Plus, I remembered some things: first, that being recorded makes us all a little nervous, second, that what we do here is truly critical, and third, that many of our connections happen during little moments.  I define a “little moment” as an ordinary event with an extraordinary human connection.

The Respite has its moments for everyone: great moments when our clients reconnect with their families, find permanent housing, and recover from illness; anxious moments when an ambulance has been called or a service falls though; sad moments when a client sucumbs to an addiction or negative behavior.

At the end of this day, however, I am thinking about the little moments everyone shared in their interviews.  Why?  Because it’s not just the great breakthroughs that help people, it’s the act of listening, watching, or simply not leaving when things go wrong.  Walking slowly to accomodate a friend, helping pick up scattered papers, listening to the story of a sad day – during these moments we gain special insight into the people we serve.

There’s some kind of healing in the connection itself, I believe.  Do you agree?  Or, do you have your own “little moment” story to share?

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This is week two of my latest installment, songs that remind us of homelessness.  “Harry Hippy” is an old Bobby Womack song and is recommended by Kathy, our Housing Coordinator. 

This is a totally different style than “Mr. Wendal” and has a different message as well.  In our interpretation, Harry is a chronically homeless individual, one of the ones you can’t always reach.  We have some clients like Harry – sometimes we can help them, and sometimes they choose a different path.  Like Harry, they each sing their own song.

When someone choses an addiction or self-destructive habit over an outstretched hand, it raises so many questions; how did this person slip through the cracks?  What could we have done differently?  I think this song expresses some of that sense of loss and frustration. 


Coming next week . . .

Read the story of Mike T., a former mechanic and drug addict who found his way out of homelessness via Respite Permanent Housing – he’s moving into his new place tomorrow!  And although Mike isn’t a “Harry Hippy,” he used one of the same phrases that was used in the song when I interviewed him, “just floating around,” to describe homelessness.  His is truly a homeless success story.

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Wake up, Cincinnati – are you reading Streetvibes yet?  I’ve commented about Streetvibes frequently, but haven’t yet written about this great local newspaper in depth.  The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless publishes this paper that is part info and part advocacy and “provides relevant discussions of homelessness, poverty, and other related social justice issues.”  It also provides a source of income to vendors who earn seventy-five cents per paper.

I have a former client who first wrote and article for Streetvibes and today is my preferred vendor (and just found an apartment of her own) because she makes a special stop at the Respite.   Anyways, the news of the day is that the friendly folks at Streetvibes are blogging, so you can get more homeless news and Cincinnati-related social justice news directly from them as well!

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