Archive for November, 2017

One of the phrases that will send most healthcare for the homeless providers into a hair-on-fire-tizzy is when a justification for allowing the continuation of homelessness in our cities is based on the concept that the homeless just don’t want the help. I can understand how this line of thinking evolves.  It has been said that the United States is the richest country in the world with the most resources to help its citizens. How, then, can we explain that people are still refractory to this wealth of money and resources. The rationalization, for both society and the individual, becomes to accept that some people just don’t want the help.  It is easier for us to go about our morning commute, our jog through town or our walk into work if we work it out this way in our minds.

A few months ago, I read a book by St. Francis DeSales entitled Finding God’s Will for You. St. Francis DeSales was known for his belief that ordinary people could live holy lives in their communities and did not need to be cloistered (as in a nun) or in a monastery, cut off from the rest of the world and it’s many challenges and temptations in order to live holy lives. In this book, he talks about God’s will being the sun and ourselves or our willingness to accept his will for us as a mirror.  At times, the mirror is small and only reflects a small amount of light.  It does not mean that the sun is small but rather it is our mirror that is small.  As we grow in acceptance of God’s will, our mirror grows and is able to accept and reflect more of the sun’s light until we are fully aligned with and accepting of God’s will.  I think of our friends on the street and their willingness to accept help in the same way. When we first meet them, the mirror is small. It may even be impossible to appreciate, made small by pain, suffering, hopelessness and rejection. Feeling unloved and incapable of being loved or loving another. Many times, I have been startled at the depth of shame carried around by our fellow brothers and sisters. But over time, the mirror grows as trust is built so that one day, a full reflection is possible. An acceptance of help, hope and possibility comes into view and value is restored.

We are often impatient with this process, wanting results and success to satisfy our own needs and desires for affirmation. Building a relationship can literally take years. I once watched a brilliant lecture by a colleague from Southampton, England who called it the One-Less-F***-Off. He described a patient who, upon eye contact would yell the magical phrase that sends most people away. No matter what he said, “F*** off” was the response.  Over years, the number for f*** off’s received diminished so that once, when our colleague didn’t visit him but rather visited a nearby street friend, the patient proclaimed “Hey, where the f*** have you been”. Success defined by the most peculiar matrix. But success none-the-less.

At the June 2017 National Health Care for the Homeless Council Conference, Jim O’Connell of the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program responded to an audience question with a reminder that we cannot erase the trauma that has happened to our patients prior to meeting them. The growth of the person is not about us, the provider, but rather about the return of this precious individual to their rightful value as they gaze upon and accept their own reflection.


The Silents

Posted: November 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

It was only 23 degrees the day when the phone rang that October morning. A familiar name appeared on the screen of a work phone happily charging it’s battery after a long week of being a conduit between those living outside and those living inside. I answered knowing that this was a call from a man who was trying, for many years, to do the right thing. A Saturday morning phone call made me nervous because while he knew we would usually answer, he was respectful to try not to call unless really necessary. I personally had not spoken to him since I was pregnant with my last child. He remembered vividly how I would waddle down the hallway of the facility and call out his name like an old friend.  As often does, our patients transition out of one setting and into another, thus trading one Feldman the other. Resiliency is a word I use frequently (just ask my students) to describe my friends who are living outside. This man is no exception. We talked about the difficulty of sleeping outside with the cold weather creeping in like a prowling lion ready to pounce when you fall asleep. We talked about how his long nights are a mental battle between a will to survive and a will to succumb. Sometimes the best place to shelter in the rain, he tells me, was a porta-potty that was left behind after the summer had ended. While I hold my breath for the minute and thirty seconds it takes me to pee under pressure of the stifling smell of a porta-potty in June, I cannot imagine the June porta-potty in October being my bed for the night.

Then he told me about the Silents. Individuals who have helped him in the most simple and but impactful way. He went on to describe how every outlet in a nearby park is shut off in the winter, except one. A maintenance man who works for the parks knows he sleeps outside and at times, he brings a space heater under the pavilion and plugs it in to stay warm and dry. He believes that this member of the Silents leaves the outlet on for him knowing it keeps him alive. Another member of the Silents walks the food from the food bank out to his tent when the weather is bad, understanding that his health often times limits his ability to walk into town for supplies. He tells me that he recognizes these fellow citizens do these things for him in silence. A simple fellow man helping another fellow man in need. No recognition, no newspaper article, no pat on the back. Perhaps even incurring risk along the way, but doing the right thing all the same. It is a reminder that the smallest things can mean so much. A reminder that true generosity is doing a deed for someone you know can never repay you. A reminder that the human connection that keeps us all alive is the connection that can allow a broken man to dream again. Lost for so many years, he dreams now of working with a street team or the food bank as a peer support. He tells me, “I’m worth something, you know. I think I really am.”