Archive for December, 2014

Baby It’s Cold Outside

Posted: December 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

The bitter air nips at my nose as I try to adjust my scarf to cover my nose without actually ceasing air entering. It is about 2:30 in the morning and I can feel that the temperature has dropped due to the wind picking up. I had built my shelter with my co-worker Nani, between a brick wall and a row of bushes. A sleeping bag and some cardboard we had dumpster dove for. A seemingly smart decision until I realize that I am now laying in a wind tunnel. Too cold to sleep but too stubborn to give up, my thoughts turn to my responsibilities for the next day. I have to work in the morning- seeing patients, calling families, making decisions. I need to be on time and figure out where i can take a shower before work to hide the experiment taking place now. I recall from a recent lecture I gave that 44% of homeless are actually employed. They face the same questions as they try to sleep while remaining guarded about their safety and their situation. I then think about the other 66% who aren’t employed. What if I had no where to be tomorrow. No responsibility. No purpose. And then the sinking feeling as i imagined how it would feel if no one knew about my situation. Or worse, if they all knew and no one cared. The day and the night must seem like an endless cycle of survival that can fade into nothingness.

Two weeks before, I had learned that the DeSales University Center for Service and Social Justice hosts the Night Out in honor of National Homeless and Hunger Awareness Week. They invite students to sleep outside in an act of solidarity to raise awareness about homelessness. Intrigued, I contacted the person in charge who invited our PA program to participate. I volunteered (and convinced Nani to come with me- trust me, it wasn’t hard) and offered it to my students to participate. The rules were simple. No supplies could be brought except for a sleeping bag. All other supplies would have to be pan handled for or social networked for. 31 students volunteered for the experience. The support showed to the students by their classmates and friends was overwhelming and emphasized the importance of social support. And the stark reality of what happens when you don’t have it. Here are some of their observations-

– One of the biggest things I learned from this event was how difficult and strange it was to try and sleep while the world is still going on around you. I at least knew the people around me that were still awake and talking, but to actually be homeless and not know the people that are walking past you as you’re trying to sleep would be an extremely uncomfortable experience. It definitely made me feel isolated, and if I were homeless, I would NOT feel safe in that situation. While I was laying there trying to sleep, I couldn’t help but think about how it would make someone who was homeless feel if I walked past them, laughing with my friends, enjoying the night as they were just trying to get some rest on a cold bench. It definitely made me very sad and showed me an entirely different aspect of homelessness that I would’ve never seen had I not participated in the sleep-out.

– I think the biggest thing that i learned from this experience was just how much you are at the will of others kindness. Even though we brought sleeping bags and were able to dress to the nines in clothes, having never slept outside in the cold, it was hard to guess just what you needed to get through the night. There were many times where i convinced myself that i wouldn’t be able to make it through the night, but the sheer amount to support from my peers encored me to fight it out as well.

– The entire week before the night out I was freaking out about the weather. I thought it would be a nice break to not have a Friday morning rotation, but the whole week before I ended up having more anxiety over this than the rotation anyway. I was trying to mentally prepare myself for the night and figure out how exactly I would stay warm. This was huge because this is what the homeless have to deal with every day. Not only where they’re going to sleep, but what they will eat, where they’ll get clean water… It’s a mentally taxing state to be in. I had totally underestimated the anxiety and stress of that situation and how it can affect a person.

– Don’t get me wrong, I, myself, and I’m sure the rest of us appreciated the warm food and beverages to snack on, but I just hope and pray that this is an everyday occurrence. Its easier for people to help out fellow classmates than to help out a stranger that truly is in need, whereas we were not really in need, at least in the sense of us being in that situation indefinitely. I’m not sure what that comes from, whether it be the fact that we all feel connected as a DeSales community or the fact that we’re “not really homeless”, but where is that connection to our fellow man as far as a human community with which we are all a part of? The person in rags in the park is no less of a person than the person in a three piece suit stepping out of a Mercedes and I guess that’s what struck me the most… I think the big challenge for the whole process and what we are trying to do is to have that drive be shifted with as much tenacity that was shown to us to the actual homeless population.I think we did do a great job of raising awareness but now it’s on those who are made aware to take real action, and I truly hope that happens.

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Brett and I had an opportunity to give some education about healthcare for the homeless/street medicine to third year University of South Florida medical students. It was a great chance to talk about the unique qualities our patients on the street possess and how they survive. We were incredibly fortunate to have Tyler Rogers, executive director of Safe Harbor (Easton,PA) speak as well. His passion for helping people end their hopelessness is palpable and contagious. The repeating theme in all of our discussion was the concept that everyone matters. Here is a story of a person Brett met today during street rounds with Tyler. It is a testament to why we do what we do and the courage our patients have that we often don’t appreciate.

” I’m incredibly blessed to have the opportunity for service that my job affords. Today was one of those days that reminds me even more than usual the importance of joyful work. I was doing street rounds today in Easton and one of the homeless people we met tipped us off to a young girl sleeping on the street who just arrived from New Jersey. I found her and it was quickly apparent she was pregnant– 28 weeks pregnant– and fleeing domestic violence from her mother who is a crack addict. Her mother has abused her and her brother since they were kids and she always stayed to try to protect her little brother who is now 17 and an addict himself. She felt the time was right to get out of the situation since she feared for the life of her baby because of the abuse. She came to Easton because someone told her she would find help there. I found her and her boyfriend in an alley and told her why we were there and about street medicine. I wish you could’ve seen the look on her face. She has been in Easton for 6 weeks and didn’t know who to call to try to get help or prenatal care. She didn’t have insurance or money to pay so the plan was to go to the ED when she went into labor so she wouldn’t be turned away.

While I was with her we scheduled an appointment for her in the Center for Women’s Medicine. I spoke with the team there myself and she was treated with respect and dignity every step of the way. Now she is very much looking forward to her first appointment next week. Jen, the Case Manager at Safe Harbor, has started the paperwork for her insurance and her boyfriend has enrolled in their job training program. She and her boyfriend were placed in a home affiliated with Safe Harbor today so they can stay together and won’t have to sleep in the streets.”

Sometimes people ask us how we stay encourage. How do we stop from burning out or getting discourage. The answer is simple – Everyone Matters.