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Posts Tagged ‘emergency shelter’

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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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 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 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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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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