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.

~C

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