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Posts Tagged ‘Causes of homelessness’

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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Today, I want you to meet David.  More importantly, I want you to meet David’s feet.  I talked about David in last week’s post, and David has even been mentioned in the Enquirer.

But I don’t know if you really understand David’s feet.  Frostbite sounds bad, but not horrifying.  I think David’s feet are horrifying.  Horrifying because they display the needless injuries inflicted on everyday people who can’t afford medical care.  Horrifying because they are the result of honest work, not substance abuse or living on the streets.  In fact, David lost his job because of the injury, not vice versa.

I’ve posted pictures before to show you what we do at the Respite.  You’ve seen clients after healing and recuperation, after housing and health.  Here are pictures of what an earlier stage in that process looks like:

Can you say "no" to healthcare for the homeless. . .

Can you say "no" to healthcare for the homeless. . .

. . . after seeing how bad it really can be?

. . . after seeing how bad it really can be?

People say, "I don't want my tax dollars to fund homeless services."

People say, "I don't want my tax dollars to be a free ride for someone who's just lazy."

But we don't help "the homeless," we help people.

See any lazy people here?

It’s easy to write off the issue of homelessness through stereotypes.  It’s not as easy to deny urgently needed medical care because of assumptions about past actions or potential for the future.  The health care needs of homeless individuals in our community are serious and growing.  People like David need help now or they risk drastic consequences.

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A few weeks ago, a new client arrived at the Center for Respite Care with a horrific case of frostbite.  Freezing rain splashed off the sidewalk as he gingerly walked to our front door with only bandages on his feet.  The frostbite was a result of working as a parking garage attendant.  Today, he is healing, but still faces toe amputation. 

Personally, I’m not a fan of cold weather.  Our current weather makes me want to hide underneath the covers–or, at least, it used to.  One recent morning, I woke up and immediately decided I had left a window open.   I dug out my trusty thermometer: fifty-eight degrees!

I called my landlord, but ten days later, the whole building was fifty degrees.  The landlord came over, but it was too late to call for repairs.  We went without heat that night.

There is a big difference between having some heat and having no heat.  I piled three comforters on the bed, cranked up a tiny space heater, and shivered.

My heat was fixed the next day, but not everyone is so lucky.  In fact, every night in Cincinnati, hundreds of homeless men, women, and children are without heat and shelter.  Unlike me, they have little hope of reprieve until summer.  What little time and money they have go toward finding the next meal, tracking down loved ones, and waiting for benefits such as food stamps and rental assistance.  The unlucky ones develop pneumonia, frostbite, infections, and cancer.

If you’re snowed in today, appreciate your heat!  And consider helping your fellow citizens find shelter, heat, and medical care.  The economy is tight for everyone, and no group feels this more acutely than the homeless.

To make a donation to the Center for Respite Care visit our website.

Check back soon for Respite in the news.  (Hint: did you see Respite in the Enquirer last Sunday?)

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I was tag surfing today, checking out other blog articles on homelessness and found a great description of one woman’s first day at a homeless shelter.  It contains many of the details I’ve heard from Respite clients (about their stay at “traditional” emergency shelters, not a respite facility), along with the fear, worry, and unease inherent to the situation. 

As you can tell from the woman’s description, a typical shelter is no place for someone to try to recover after being hospitalized, having surgery, or being released from an emergency room.  There are showers and a place to sleep, but in the wee hours of the morning, each person must return to the streets.  For an injured person, this would surely contribute to repeat hospitalizations and ER visits.

Running a homeless shelter is definitely a balancing game.  If you provide more services, you serve fewer people.  If you try to serve everyone, you can’t provide as much help for each individual.  At the Center for Respite Care, we provide medical recovery and 24-hour shelter.  We have high success rates for our population, but we are limited to serving fourteen people at a time.  Luckily, there are other agencies in Cincinnati that create something of a safety net, but we do sometimes turn people away because we don’t have the resources to serve them.  On the upside, we’re the only agency in Cincinnati that providing this service and can hopefully expand our size in the future. 

If you’ve never heard of the Center for Respite Care (or other similar respite care provider for the homeless), I’d urge you to visit our website: www.homelessrespite.org.

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It’s Friday again – our song this week is Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution,” again from LaDonna.  Millie, our nurse manager, wanted to share “Trying to Find My Place in the World,” but we couldn’t track it down on YouTube.  If anyone knows the artist for that piece, leave us a comment and I’ll post the song next week.

Meanwhile, “Revolution” is a fair description of day-to-day life for many low-income and homeless men and women who spend many a long hour waiting in line to secure benefits.  As a result of the recent economic downturn, cash-strapped agencies try to help a growing number of people with dwindling resources.  This can result in longer wait times for those who need help the most. 

For Respite clients who break the cycle of homelessness, being housed really is a revolution.  And it takes a personal revolution to work through issues of mental illness, addiction, and abuse.  That’s why we’re so proud of clients like Mike!

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As promised, here is another story of one of our clients.  With the help of Center for Respite Care staff, Mike healed, was able to confront the issues keeping him homeless, and found housing through our program, Respite Permanent Housing.  This is his story, in his own words.  If you’d like more stories about people like Mike or if you want to help those who are homeless and sick, email respitesupport at zoomtown.com today.

 

I never thought that homelessness would happen to me, let me start off by saying that.  When drugs took over my life I had no idea where it was going to take me.  It was just a joyride, just today, but you put that string of days, weeks, years together it adds up. 

 

Somebody introduced me to marijuana at age 16 and said I’d get the same effect as alcohol without the hangover.  I smoked marijuana for 35 years, did some pain pills and cocaine along the way; whatever was around, I’d do it. 

 

Little by little, addiction took me away from my family because all I had on my mind was the getting and using of drugs.  I kept a job as a mechanic for BP for 19 years, but when I was introduced to crack, it was over with.  I was stealing everything in site – money from my bank account, money from retirement, my kids’ games, toys, the pictures off the wall.  From the time I got up in the morning until the time I went to bed, crack was on my mind. 

 

I was evicted, started living on the street, starting stealing for my crack and ended up in and out of jails and rehab for the next five years.  I got out of jail and kept doing the same thing.  And each time it would take a little piece of me – my paycheck, then my bank account, then my retirement, then friends and relatives started alienating me and then it ended up in a divorce.  And there are a hundred things in-between all that. 

 

I spent five years floating around like a butterfly; wherever I landed, that’s where I laid my head.  After I got a blister on my foot and started to feel really sick, I checked myself into University Hospital.  When it was time for me to get released, they asked where I wanted to go and told me about the Center for Respite Care.

 

It’s hard for people that don’t have an addictive personality to understand.  I didn’t want to quit then; I’ve quit now because I’ve had enough. 

 

I had heard about Respite from another person, but I didn’t have any idea it was the way it is as far as helping people.  I thought it was just another option toward getting healed before I went back on the street, but I’ll tell you what: it’s a blessing in disguise that I ended up in the hospital because this place is a gift.  The staff at Respite is going to help me get an apartment, they fed me, they took care of my medical needs and just little things: razors, soap, a place to take a bath, a place to sleep.  

 

What’s on my mind now is that I risked losing the relationship with my two daughters.  They mean a lot to me.  I talk to them at least once a week and I know now that it’s on me – I have to show them I mean business.

 

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Welcome to my new Friday Feature: Songs that Remind Us of Homelessness.  Our housing counselor, LaDonna, shared this catchy song with me last week.  She’s been busy this week moving three new clients into housing, but found a few minutes to share “Mr. Wendal,” an Arrested Development piece that reminds her of our clients.

Don’t miss this song – it’s a blast from the past and a peek into the head of a great lady who works incredibly hard to get the homeless off the streets every day. 

LaDonna said she likes the song for its ideas (“Civilization, are we really civilized? Yes or no, who are we to judge?”) and the soul of it.  Also, “it gives some idea of homelessness to people who are clueless – the ability to look at one of these people and say this is a person, not just someone who lives on the street.” 

 I liked her idea so much, I’m doing a new song every week, so bookmark this site and check back!  I’ve already got a piece lined up for next week.

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