Posts Tagged ‘Cincinnati’


I’ve known a few people who made it through medical school living on Ramen and boxed macaroni and cheese, so when a group of 1st year medical students decided to prepare and share dinner this week, I crossed my fingers.

Little did I know, however, that these future physicians were going to whip up a meal that was both delicious and healthy.  Even our client from Serbia (whose English is improving) proclaimed the meal “very, very, very good!”

I’ll admit, I nabbed a couple bunches of  grapes.  So delicious! 

These students are just a fraction of our newest volunteer group from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine.  They’re serving meals, interviewing clients, playing games, and bringing snacks as part of an ongoing project to benefit the Respite.

Plus, they sat down and ate with the clients!  I encourage every group to do this; sharing a meal relieves the potential awkwardness of  two groups of strangers meeting.  Plus, the clients usually tell the staff afterwards how much they enjoyed a homecook meal.  This way, they were able to tell the students directly.

There is always a need for physicians with experience treating homeless people.  Of course, a person is a person, but the experience of homelessness is a unique one.  While we benefit from the students’ efforts in the short run, we know it will be the homeless community that benefits long-term.  



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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 read as many blogs about homelessness as I can.  It helps me keep abreast of what others are thinking, and how homeless issues are perceived in other communities.  Some viewpoints are almost expected, others are just discouraging, and the best ones impact my perception of homelessness and the Respite’s role in serving our community.  Three of my favorites from the past couple days are below.

1) Burned to Death for Being Homeless  – The title, unfortunately, gives you a good idea what this article is about.  I’ve read at too many similar articles in recent weeks and months.  Without being sensational, I wanted to share this one because despite the horrific nature of these incidents, they continue.  The idea that a life might be extinguished for entertainment underlies the most base societal attitudes about homeless people: that they are not human, not even less than human. 

2) Where’s the Messenger? – This article is a good read for nonprofits serving the homeless.  It closely examines our duty to educate the public, not just fundraise.  While “raising public awareness” does, I’m sure, factor into most nonprofit’s goals, we don’t always do as much as we can.  Let’s face it: between serving our clients, connecting with supporters, friends, and volunteers, maintaining our grant support, valuing staff, and dealing with daily crises (broken computers, squirrels on the porch, inspections, power failures, leaking washing machines), well, maybe we don’t keep this function in mind as much as we should. 

3) Why do you look away? – Some of the most powerful blog entries are those written by homeless people themselves.  This one talks about the flip side of homeless people on the streets.  I see tons of articles written by people who encountered a homeless person during the day.  Some express remorse for not being able to help, others show guilt or pity, and a predictable portion express disgust, even rage.  This article is a sobering look at the flip side of the situation.

Is there an article about homelessness that caught your attention lately?  Share a link in comments.

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I fold and sort (thankfully) many clothing donations for the Center for Respite Care each month and I have some tips for potential clothing donors in Cincinnati or anywhere.  In fact, I received a wonderful clothing donation today from a local church group that refilled our dangerously-low t-shirt supply (that’s lesson one: homeless shelters usually need new t-shirts, socks, and underwear the most!) and provided some paper cups and plates as well.

After folding and sorting a well-prepared donation, I thought I’d share with you the best ways to make the most of your old clothing, just like today’s donors:

1)  Be hygenic: items like pants, sweaters, and even shoes can be donated with gentle wear and tear.  Who hasn’t loved a hand-me-down, after all?  Other items like socks or underwear are best discarded or recycled once you can no longer wear them.  Especially among homeless populations, health care is often difficult to access (unless you’re staying with the Respite!).  Used undies are more likely to carry harmful germs and bacteria than other duds.  Donate new items you find at a local discount retailer.

2) Stains are a pain: Although you may think that a stained shirt is better than NO shirt for a homeless person, please consider the self-respect of those who will wear your old clothes.  If a stain is the reason you are discarding an item, it’s time for the trash, not the donation pile.  By giving our homeless clients only the clothing we would wear ourselves, we’re valuing them as people and as equals.  Plus, think of the stereotypes for homeless people: dirty, lazy, and sloppy.  Donating unstained items helps break this stereotype and teaches homeless people that they have worth and deserve to be respected.

3) Washing adds value to your donation: Old clothes from your attic may be in great condition.  After marinating in mothballs, however, they’ll need a bit of sprucing up.  Consider washing your items before donating them.  Nothing says “we care!” like being able to hand a homeless person a freshly-laundered shirt.  Don’t have time?  Throw them into the dryer with a dryer sheet!  True, we could wash them ourselves, but this takes time, effort, and money.  Plus, it takes time away from providing our normal services.  Donating freshly laundered clothing helps us make the most of your donation, saves time, and keeps our storage spaces smelling fresh.

4. Pat yourself on the back!  All that sorting and laundering is hard work!  Give yourself credit for taking time out of a busy schedule to help people in need.  To add to the “feel good” factor, ask to take a tour when dropping off clothes to see your favorite agency in action.  Share what you learn with a friend!

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It seems that winter has struck early this year.  Not so much in terms of weather, but in the increased amount of homeless people needing shelter and medical care in these first few days of October.  I believe that most homeless shelters experience a similar, weather-related trend: in the summer, occupancy rates go down because it’s more comfortable to “sleep out.” 

In the winter, however, some people are forced to follow rules they might otherwise reject; stay sober or sleep in the snow?  I wish I could claim this was not the case, but it seems to be so.  On the upside, cold weather gives us a chance to reach and help more sick people.

Unusually enough, however, we have seen a recent, prolonged increase in referrals even though temperatures are hardly uncomfortable outside.  I wonder if this is a result of chance, or the economy (anyone else trying hard to ignore that?), or some other factor I haven’t considered.

What do you think?  Will the current economic conditions cause shelters nationwide to be flooded with fellow citizens in need?  Or is this trend a fluke?

Some industries applaud a waiting list of customers, but not us!  We’re happy to help and thrilled to be a part of breaking the cycle of homelessness for so many people each year, but it pains me to think there will be people in need whom we cannot help, perhaps in unpredented numbers.

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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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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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