March 14, 2009
Participating in Project Homeless Connect brought what always seemed like a far distant concern, much closer to home. You hear about the large homeless population in the Bay Area all the time. You see countless stories on the news regarding the need for more shelters and resources as our economy takes a treacherous downturn and dozens of people are losing their jobs daily. But never could I imagine that standing in front of a homeless person could reinforce just how fortunate I am. Team USF took on two roles at this particular event. One was to escort homeless individuals into the auditorium to seek the services they had requested. The other was to assist the homeless clients with the completion of a mandatory intake form before they could participate in these free services. I spent the first half volunteering as an escort for the client. The available services included medical treatment, mental health services, vision and podiatry services, shelter, and housing and employment opportunities. Many people assume that a homeless person lacks the necessary skills to succeed in life. They are presumed to be lazy or addicted to illegal substances, but on the day of our team’s volunteer efforts, I saw a wide variety of HUMANS that were lost and in grave need of support. Homelessness has no boundaries with regard to age, gender, ethnicity or educational background. The youngest person I met was 22 years of age, and had been sleeping on the streets of the Tenderloin since it was the closest neighborhood to Glide Memorial Church, where he frequently sought comfort and assistance. After being laid off of his job and losing his apartment, he was desperately seeking shelter, clothing, and assistance with employment. How did he get to this place in life? Although he had been homeless had living on the streets for only a couple of months, the wear and tear of that life had visibly aged him. The oldest homeless individuals I met were a couple in their late fifties. It was obvious that they were each other’s support systems. They both wanted to seek shelter, DMV services, medical services, and food. They had been living on the streets as a married couple for years and considered themselves fortunate to be receiving the services provided by Project Homeless Connect. Were these services providing them a means to an end? Were these homeless individuals truly getting what they needed to assist them towards a better quality of life? If so, why had they been living on the streets for so long? Halfway through my day, I assisted other volunteers (at folding tables) with the mandatory intake process of all individuals seeking services that day. This provided me a greater opportunity to connect with the homeless on a one to one basis. Through this experience, I learned that not only were individuals distraught and embarrassed about their current living situation, but many did not know what services to ask for or which ones to prioritize. Unfortunately, it appeared that many were suffering from high levels of emotional and physical disparities. I found myself, out of concern for the individuals’ best interest, trying to encourage several people to seek the assistance from the medical or mental health service areas first. Much to my dissatisfaction, most of them were concerned with receiving DMV services and a free lunch. I began to wonder, if I were in their shoes, would I be most concerned about getting food in my stomach instead of seeking the medical care I obviously needed? It appeared as if several of these individuals either didn’t see them as needing medical assistance or were afraid of what that assistance would entail. From my clinical vantage point, I observed that several people smelled of alcohol, appeared shaky and unsteady, feverish or congested, and disoriented or confused about what day it was or what services would provide them the best help. Perhaps the thought that resonated with me the most at the end of the day was what happens to these individuals from here? With no phone to call them on and no address to follow up with, do they simply return to their alleyway and survive the harsh city climate? How many of these individuals seen at this event will overcome the adversity they are faced with? Although I think it is empowering and shows a tremendous sense of compassion for our community to put on an event of this magnitude, I hope that there is a way to create a better follow-up process with the necessary medical care and emotional support. I wonder if the homeless participants should be required to undergo a medical assessment prior to seeking the other services offered. It would be great if there were a basic software system that could track those individuals through thumb scans upon medical check-in to ensure that they have received proper follow-up health care when they return to Project Homeless Connect for future services. Overall, my experience was educational, enlightening, and humbling to say the least. I am grateful for the opportunities I have, the family that cares for me, the economic status I enjoy, and most importantly for my health and well-being. Although there may be no easy and quick answer to the hardships fellow members of our community endure, as long as we have members of our community that continue to care and seek reasonable answers, each and every homeless person has a chance at a happier and healthier tomorrow. Mrs. Nader
What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...
interaction with and learning the true concerns of the homeless population
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MY ROLE:Volunteer & volunteer.