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Posts Tagged ‘helping the homeless’

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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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Last week, one of our creative  volunteers, Bea, decided to host an egg coloring bash for the clients.  Bea is an interfaith chaplain by trade and provides these services at the Respite.  She is, however, also a source of smiles, as evidenced by this cool project.  It’s nice to connect to you inner child every once in a while.  Check out our hard work below!

 

Thanks, Bea!

 

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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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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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