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Posts Tagged ‘Homelessness’

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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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ken-juggling1 Sometimes we all feel like we’re juggling – work, bills, family, health – it can seem like  a lot.  The Center for Respite Care’s staff and clients are no exception.  Like most nonprofits, we’re always trying to keep overhead as low as possible.  And our clients often stress over health problems, fractured relationships, rebuilding, dealing with lots of paperwork (getting ID’s, food stamps, etc.), and the day-to-day inconveniences of being poor.  Waiting for a late bus when you’re trying to get to the doctor is no joke!

All of this stress needs an outlet, and that’s where Juggling for a Cure comes in!  Friendly founder Ken Lewis is a U.S. Navy vet started Juggling for a Cure in 2008 and already has a busy schedule of performances.

I think when Ken first came in, I underestimated the value of this service.  Since entertainment isn’t essential, our staff tends to focus on the basics as much as possible.  Still, it’s great to see the clients get their minds off their troubles for a while, relax, and smile.

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Plus, Ken doesn’t just perform, he also teaches – and learns – in front of his audience.  He has been coming to the Center for Respite Care for three months and with each visit he brings new skills to teach and props to share.  The audience gets a quick tutorial on how to learn juggling and Ken freely passes around his props for everyone to touch.  He even got us to participate.  Check out Ginger, one of our nursing assistants, learning to juggle below.  (She juggled two bean bags after only 2 minutes of teaching!)

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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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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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We call those who are served by the Respite “clients” for several reasons – it connotates respect and self-worth, helps to maintain professionalism, and it’s accurate, if somewhat formal.

One of our clients passed away yesterday morning, and calling him a client already seems wrong.  Mr. W was a friend as well as a person who came to the Respite to recover.  Despite the severity of his illness he was always in good spirits, always polite.  In fact, he was cheerful to the point that his death took some of us by surprise. 

After becoming ill one afternoon, he took a cab to the emergency room, telling his friends on the way out to help themselves to his cigarettes; he knew he wasn’t coming back. 

Although we know that everyone served by the Respite is ill, we are never truly prepared to lose them.  Rest in peace, Mr. W.  We miss you.

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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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Happy Blog Action Day!  Despite writing about homeless people and the medical needs of this population all the time, I sometimes forget to consult the panel of experts (often referred to as our clients) that hang out on the Respite porch every afternoon.  Today, everyone was playing cards.  They let me interrupt to ask this question about poverty: What does it mean to be poor? 

Being poor means .  .  .

. . .fear of the future.

. . .a certain state of mind.

. . .appreciating things more.

. . .being scared.

. . .being treated like a second class citizen.

. . .there’s nowhere to go but up.

. . .you work hard to change your life to make it better.

. . .being frightened.

. . .wondering where meals will come from the last week of the month.

. . .lack of knowledge, not having much self-esteem.

. . .lack of independence.

. . .being without and being depressed.  Every day of being homeless is depressing.

. . .insufficient funds.

. . .being lost in the world.

 

I bolded the answers that my “experts” liked best.  Those two responses elicited an immediate approval from everyone in the vicinity. 

Finally, do you notice now many answers revolve around fear?  For those experiencing homelessness, extreme poverty is more about fear than money.

Another tenet of Blog Action is discussing solutions to the issue.  This is a gargantuan task.  Money alone isn’t going to work – everyone at Respite told me that today.  Compassion would be a start, maybe a huge start.  There is so much animosity towards those who are poor in the United States.  We’re willing to travel extreme distances to help out abroad; what about those in our community who are in need?

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