Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Job Gets Real

I had worked with him before.  He was never exactly a pleasant client, one who was increasingly frustrated by the slow progress of finding housing.  I never expected to hear what he had just said to me.
In my six months I have had clients who have died, clients who should still be in high school, clients who were on so many drugs they couldn’t even walk, let alone talk, clients who have been homeless longer than I have been alive, clients who are clearly disabled but have been denied disability several times, clients clinging to their last shred of hope, clients just trying to feed their children, clients who have PTSD from witnessing the murders of family members.  I thought I had seen almost everything.
Not quite.
He looked at me with the saddest look I’ve ever seen in another human being and said quite bluntly, “I’m going to kill myself.”
I stared at him wide-eyed, surprised by what I had just heard, everything racing through my mind except what I should say.  I hadn’t been prepared for this, I hadn’t been trained.  I didn’t know what to do and I have no problem admitting that.  It shouldn’t have shocked me as much as it did, I have had countless clients telling me they’re suffering from depression.  But it did.
“Oh no, Mr. B, you don’t want to do that.  We’re going to help you.”  That was all I was able to spit out.  All I could hope was that my client trusted me to take care of me.  
I sat staring at my computer for a minute, thinking desperately of what to do, acting like I was looking for certain resources.  I had to get this man to someone much more qualified than myself to work with him.  I found one of my coworkers and had her sit down with him in her office.  This coworker has an amazing skill in being able to relate to our clients like no one I had ever seen, I knew my client was in good hands.
The next thing I knew my client had agreed to go to the hospital and was going to be escorted there by a police officer specifically trained to handle people facing mental health crisis.  
I saw my client a few days later and he was in much better spirits, seemingly comforted by the fact that we were trying our best to look out for him.  
I desperately wish this could be the end of my experiences with clients facing the idea of suicide,  that I could end this blog here, but I can’t.
“Rick, could you come to the front desk?”  That exact phrase, uttered several times per day by the Beans and Bread receptionist is often an annoyance brought on by a client that I won’t want to deal with.  I thought this would be the same last Friday.
I go to the front room and the receptionist asks if I can see a client, even though they did not sign up on the case work desk.  Beginning my usual explanation of how I can’t see someone who didn’t sign up, I am stopped by the look of pure desperation on the man’s face.  “of course,” I say, “come on back.”
I sit the client down, a client whom I had never seen before, and ask him what’s going on.  Suddenly he breaks down, tears streaming from his face.
I do what I do best in a moment like this; I listen while the client describes how his mother just died, how he just got robbed, and (he is a man with a severe mental disability) he is tired of people calling him retard, leading him to want to kill himself.
Quick tangent:  this is just one of millions of reasons why people need to be aware of the words they are using, the context they are using them, and how the use of these words can effect people.  This cannot be tolerated.
I listen to his story, I speak with him along with another one of my coworkers who immediately came to my assistance, and get him a new set of clothes.  After about 45 minutes he’s calmed down and I am finally comfortable in trying to get him to go the hospital.
Bad idea.
He again starts panicking and begins telling me all of the reasons why he cannot go to the hospital.  He clearly wants to leave and there’s not a lot I could do about it.  I tell him the importance of getting back on his medications, it is the first thing that he must do.  
He calms down and agrees to go immediately to his doctor.  He leaves in clearly better spirits, but leaves me with the troubling thought of whether I would ever see this man or not again.
One of the biggest surprises I’ve had this year with working with my clients is the large number of people with mental disabilities.  Major depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar, and mental retardation are prevalent throughout the homeless community but are often times not readily addressed.  There is a shortage of locations for homeless men and women suffering from mental illnesses to get proper treatment and a shortage of housing programs in general.
It is a common stereotype that all disabilities are visible.  Obviously this is not the case.  Next time you pass a homeless person, and before you just assume they’re crazy, ask yourself what they could be suffering from, how their homelessness is even more crippling to their illness, and what they would be like if they had access to proper treatment.  You might be surprised by the answer you get.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Crisis of Sorts

Coming into the JVC one of my main goals for the year was to reignite the fire that is my faith, or as I should say, was my faith.  I never would have considered myself a spiritual person in my past, but my faith had certainly reached new lows in college.
It will come as no surprise to a lot of my friends that the decline in my passion for my faith correlates perfectly with the death of my father.  But why?  My faith is not suffering because I am mad at God for taking my father away much before his time.  To me, these feelings are kind of childish and not the way I deal with things.
A lot of it seemed to come from the general apathy I had about a lot of things at this time and the fact that I had much higher priorities on my mind than my faith.
Entering into my senior year of college I was way beyond the point of caring at all about my faith, even though the whole time I felt there was something missing.  Luckily, going into this year, I had made the wise decision to live with long time friend, but at the time never close friend Kyle.  The entire fall term Kyle was persistent, “Do you want to come to 242 tonight?” (the college group he attended that would be my first venture outside of catholicism) “Hey man, wanna go to bible study?’
I always had an excuse, but I was quickly running out of them.  Finally, at the beginning of the winter term, I gave into his constant pressuring and went to 242.  And what a great decision it was!  For the remainder of the year I was surrounded by a huge support system of amazing people and I was able to live out my faith.  That’s the kicker: live out my faith.  I have always felt my faith should be action based, but it never was.  But it never went beyond that.
This passion to live out my faith was going to fit in perfectly with my year in JCV where I would be living in an intentional community with people whose faiths were similar to my own.  Here I would have a chance to live spirituality with people, to pray with them, to work for the poor and live simply, together.   Unfortunately parts of this just haven’t happened.
There is certainly effort involved.  The work I am doing at my job has certainly helped my faith; the strength I see in the people I encounter everyday, who hold on to their faith as the world crumbles, is, for lack of a better word, awe inspiring.  We engage in spirituality nights, I have read spiritual books, (note to self: maybe the fact that none of these are the actual Bible might be significant), and I have a spiritual advisor.  All of these things have been great, but my faith is still in a stand still.
The biggest issue is that I have identified what the problem, I just don’t know what to do about it.  The issue:  I can’t pray.  Or maybe that I don’t know how to pray.  To be completely honest I never really learned (can you) and I never did it consistently at any point in my life.
When I did Youth on Fire in high school one of our requirements was to pray for thirty minutes every night, and I found that when I actually did it I felt tremendously better, like a hugh weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  And yet I never kept it up.  I still sometimes pray at night, but I am surrounded by the feeling that I’m talking to myself, even though I think it’s a ridiculous concept.
It’s hard for me to maintain my faith when, in my opinion, it is our responsibility as Christians to live as Jesus did; with and for the poor.  And this is something that is not happening.   I know that many of the issues in the world are in fact man made and are not caused by either a non existent God or one that simply does care.  But it is a struggle.
For me to make a difference in the work that I am doing I know it must be for both the poor and for God.  The beautiful thing about faith is that it gives a choice.  And while I am going to struggle with my faith for probably quite some time, I have chosen not to ignore the constant nagging that is happening in my heart.  The effort is there, and results will come, and I must recognize that God is behind it all, and then maybe I will be able to open my ears, my heart, my mind and have a conversation with God.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Love is Why I do what I do.

This is the written copy of the talk I was asked to give at the JVC Re-Orientation retreat that happened this past weekend.

When first asked to give a talk on social justice I kept asking myself the same question; why am I involved in social justice issues?  And as I’ve come to find out in the past five months the answer is quite clear; it is for the people.

One of my favorite quotes is from the book Jesus for President, by an author many of you are probably familiar with; Shane Claiborne.  He says, “the tragedy today is not that the rich don’t care about the poor, it’s that the rich don’t know the poor.”
In my job, getting to know my clients on a more personal level was one of the most important things for me.  I work at a place called the Beans and Bread Outreach Center, which is a homeless day shelter.  There I am a case worker, meaning I meet with 8 clients per day and try to assist them in whatever they’re looking for; clothing, housing, employment, health care, substance abuse treatment, etc.  During my first week there my boss sat me down and said very bluntly, “you are not going to be able to help everyone, don’t expect to.”  While that stung my unrealistic belief that as a JV I was going to save the world, the next bit of advice was even more profound for me.

“But if you want to make a difference, treat every client with the respect you would anyone else, look them in the eye, listen to their story, and give them a smile.  These are things they won’t get from anyone else in their day.”

I have tried to do that with every client, no matter how frustrating they are to work with, and I have seen the difference in the way they act around me and me around them.  They come to me at their most vulnerable, and without knowing anything about me besides my name, they trust me.

One of my clients is Mr. Fleming.   After I’m done working each time with him he always says the same thing to me.  “You looking out for me?”  Of course Mr. Fleming.  “You got my back?”  I got your back.  “You’re my man.”  And every time he says that I almost start laughing because I start thinking of the movie Rain Man and totally ruin the moment.  R-I-C-K, my main man.

But why does he, or any of my other clients trust me?  In the several times I’ve met with him all I’ve done was get him on a couple housing waiting lists and get him a couple of cell phones.  He is still homeless, and probably will be for quite a while.  It would seem that I have done next to nothing for him.

The reason I treat my clients the way I do, the reason I’m doing JVC can really be simplified to a single word: Love.  We express our love by our actions in every day life, with everyone we encounter.  But what is maybe even more important in my daily interactions with my clients is the love that they show me.  They know that I will not be able to solve all of their problems for them, but out of love they come to meet with me, and trust that I really do have their best interests at heart.  I don’t know about you, but this is something that I cannot do easily with someone I just met.  It’s both inspiring and humbling, and allows me to see the best in people.

But it is important for us to make sure love does not just become a word without meaning.  We can not simply tell people that we love them, we must show them.  This love ties back to our faith.  Our faith is love based, the love Jesus had for everyone and everything.  Our faith is also action based.  If our faith is to be defined by the way we live our lives, and the actions we take, then our love must be as well.

This love is our blessing and our curse.  It is our curse because it will stick with us forever.  There’s no going back to the life I led before I got involved with social justice issues, no matter how much I wish I could at times.  I will not leave JVC on my last day, walk out of my office and forget about my clients, or the many issues they are facing.  I care about them too much.  We can not see people we care about suffering and not do anything, it is unforgivable.  I hate to be the most cliche JV of all time, but this love has ruined us for life. 

But this love is also a blessing because, again, it will stick with us forever.  We will dedicate our lives out of love to serving the poor, and in turn, to serving God.  We will become one with the poor in spirit.  We will realize that what we’re working for are not only political issues, or social issues, but ultimately, people issues.  We will suffer with the marginalized in their hardships, and celebrate with them in their triumphs.  We will come together to work with people who are, as we’re slowly realizing, quite similar to us, to work towards common goals, a common future.  Love is our motivation, our guide, our direction, to serving God and serving others, and becoming one with them. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Am I coming home...or leaving it?

I wrote this blog while flying home for the Holidays:

I am currently on my flight home.  It’s 2:15 in the morning in Baltimore.  It’s been a long day.  But I’m so close.
This has obviously been my first time coming home since I started living in Baltimore.  I wonder; has anything changed?  Have I changed?  Have my friends changed?  I’m confident that the answer is yes, so the real question should be, what is going to be different?
I know that my friends will be expecting me to go back to living in the same way that I did before I left.  This cannot happen unfortunately.  Actually, I’m not even sure if I would want it to happen.  I have seen too much, I have experienced too much in the past four months to pretend that I have not changed as a person.
When asked if I think I have changed I know what my answer will be.  It’s the only answer I ever give when I’m asked that question.  I answer, “I hope so.”  
One of my favorite things to look back at is how I was just a year before and to examine the ways that I’ve changed, that I’ve grown.  It is remarkable to think that every time I have done this I realize that I have changed profoundly and that the person I am now is the best person I have been.  Yet I know there is still much learning and growing to do.  It’s a never ending journey, and it’s affecting me profoundly.
So how have I changed?  I would say I’m more aware.  I always spoke about the atrocities of the world but I never experienced them first hand, or really had a vested interest in them.  I would complain about homelessness, and war, and all the other issues facing our world, but I wasn’t do anything about it.  I can finally say that now I am.  I am also more committed to the idea of living simply, as I wrote in my last entry, even though there is tremendous room for growth.  I would also like to think I have become a more open person, a more loving person, a more patient person, but I know I also need to work on my dedication to my community, and to strive to grow in my spirituality.
But will I maintain these changes when I spend this week at home?  Again, I hope so.
I’m not sure how I feel about this idea of home.  One of my favorite quotes from the movie Garden State is when Zach Braff says he no longer has this sense of home, a place where he truly feels comfortable, like the place he grew up. Instead he just has a place where he can store his stuff and return to a couple times per year.
I’ve come to the realization that this statement accurately reflects my concept of home.  In that I don’t really feel I have one.  Of course I have my mom’s place, where I am always welcome and love being with her, but things have changed in recent years.  This is no surprise.
I haven’t felt at home in Salem since my father passed, it is always a struggle for me to return.  I no longer have the house I grew up in, my own room, decorated exactly how I left it.  Instead I have a storage unit, holding onto all my childhood memories.
But how do I get this feeling of home back?  It’s something that’s been lacking for so long that it seems like I’ll never have it again.  I loved all the living situations I was in during college, and I love my community in Baltimore, but I don’t think anyone I lived with would describe them as homes.  We just have a place to stay for a year while we’re busing doing other things.
Home can be in other things though, and I feel like I have pieces of that throughout different areas of my life.  Returning to Oregon after a crazy four months away has really helped me to see how dependent I was on my family and friends before leaving and how much I’ve missed the conversations, the laughter, the hugs.
So maybe I won’t have a home in the near future.  I think I’m ok with that.  I am going to bring my idea of home back to Baltimore with me and use it in my everyday interactions with people.  How I live my life for the next eight months through the ideas and values I was raised on, will help me bring myself closer to my roommates, the other JVs, my clients, my coworkers.  And maybe, just maybe, I can once again have the sense of being home.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

So Others May Simply Live - Thoughts on Simple Living

Throughout my year in JVC I am supposed to live out and be committed to the four values of JVC.  One of these values, and certainly the most enticing to me, was the concept of simple living.  I can’t really say why I was most drawn to this value, community, social justice, and spirituality are also dominant parts of my life.  
I think my mindset at the beginning of the year was that I would have the community and social justice values down pat because I would be living them out daily.  If I am not a work then I am most likely at home, and vice-versa.  And spirituality, which was a major factor in me choosing JVC over other volunteer programs, honestly was the least important to me of the values.  As you can see, I was over simplifying these values tremendously.
But I felt comfortable with simple living.  I felt that out of all the values of JVC I had the most experience with simple living.  Thinking proudly to myself of what an awesome I must be I thought about the ways I lived simply before I even entered JVC.  I had spent more than a year eating strictly vegetarian, I rode my bike to most places, I tried my hardest to avoid large chains, I recycled and composted, I tried to not buy many things like clothes, especially if they were not needed, and I tried to read instead of watching TV.
But my heart was never really in it.  I ate (and still do) a considerable amount of meat, I used my car way more than necessary, I loved places like Winco, I ate out too often, bought a lot of stupid stuff, and spent a lot of time with my ass planted in front of the TV.  Had I made progress from where I was before I tried to live simply?  Of course.  Was I doing it for the right reasons?  I’m not quite sure.
Unfortunately these character flaws have kept with me in the first four months of JVC, and it has really bothered me.  Yes I am no longer using a car, or spending nearly the same amount of money as I was, but I know I can do better.  
I had spent some time recently thinking about why JVC would make something like living simply one of its values, besides the fact that this year is supposed to be a challenging and formative year for all those involved.  And then it hit me!  Living simply is important to my time in JVC because it directly complements the other three values!  If I want to make the biggest impact on my spirituality, my community, and through the social justice issues that I am part of, I must do it by living simply.
Spirituality - Jesus called us to live simply, to sacrifice everything for the poor, and to dedicate our life serving and living with those who have less.
Community - a group of strangers making sacrifices to benefit their greater community can come together and live united.
Social Justice - living an American lifestyle while trying to end homelessness and other social justice issues is just not going to work out for you.
One of my favorite quotes is from when Gandhi said “live simply so that others may simply love.”  Wow!  And maybe that’s it!  If we can realize that living simply is not a political issue but a human issue then big things can happen.  One of the things people don’t realize when it comes to living simply is that it doesn’t have to be drastic actions and sacrifices.  If people made little steps first, it would make it much easier to take the next step once you’re ready.
And if everyone did this?  What a difference it could make!  If everyone decided to bike or take public transportation just one day a week, if they decided that they could survive with meat in only two of their meals each day instead of three, if they decided they could take a little more effort to throw things in recycle instead of the trash, if people made a little more effort to support small businesses, or check where the things they bought were made, if people bought more organic food instead of the processed crap that is killing us, if people just consumed a little less than they do now it could change the world!
These are not hard sacrifices, it is something that most everyone could do with ease.  And if people with the means to do these things did them, it would make it easier for those who had less.  Driving less, buying less plastic crap would reduce our need of oil, helping stop environmental destruction.  The 80% percent of food grown in the world that goes to animals could instead be used to feed the millions of people starving to death.  Eating healthy food, instead of fast food, could be more readily accessible to all and could help stop the major health crises facing the United States.  
Is this an idealistic dream?  Probably.  But we have reached the point of no return and if people forgot about their pride and greed for a moment we would realize that giving up just small parts of the way we currently live in this society would help the literally billions that are suffering throughout the planet.
One of the most frustrating things about my job is that it really offers no long term solutions, and that seems to be the case of many non-profit.  But this generation, seeing the problems of the world that will become our responsibility, have an amazing opportunity to change the way things are, to change the mindset of how the lives of the world citizens are viewed.  This can no longer be a political issue, we must see the value the life of every person, no matter where they live.  But to do this you must realize that you cannot continue to live your life of endless comfort.  You cannot stand up for these issues but not actually live them out.  But all it takes is some sacrifice, a sacrifice that you will quickly realize won’t kill you, in order to change the world.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Some Pictures!

In light of my last post on this blog I figured I should post something a little more upbeat.  My sister suggested writing about the things I am thankful for (bwahaha yeah right!) since today is in fact Thanksgiving, but instead I'm putting something up that my friends from home have been bothering about., coughbethcough.  So here are some pictures of my house, my job, and some other stuff I've been doing.

 Ok!  So this is my house!  The one and only 2709 Guilford Ave.  Our house is nicknamed the Arrupe House after Father Pedro Arrupe.  Look him up, he's a pretty cool guy.
The view from our front door.  Our living room is directly to the right, the main room you can see is the dining room, and our kitchen is in the back.

Our family room!  Full of wonderful used couches and a TV that usually works!

 Me and my roommates at our Thanksgiving dinner we had on Friday.  Unfortunately Tim isn't in this picture because he was taking it!  Anyway, starting from the left and going clockwise we have Erin, Stephanie, ME!, David, and Matt.

These next two photos show my bedroom, or to be more specific, my half of the bedroom.  First we have the part of my room that is visually pleasing with my bed and all my fun things I hung up.  Two things: 1.  My flag is a peace flag, it is not is support of pasta sauce.  2.  If you are wondering what that calendar is and can't quite tell, it is in fact a Twilight calendar.  And I hang it with pride, thank you Sarah Cole!

And then the not so nice part of my room.  I purposefully left out the floor so you can't see my pile of dirty clothes.  And no, that purple scarf is not mine, it was already there.

Ok so this is my work!  The St Vincent de Paul Beans and Bread Center!  This is the outside of my building.  And we just got approved for expansion so a whole new building will be going up behind these two.  Unfortunately it won't be open until after I'm gone.  :(  Also, you will notice in the pictures that there aren't any people.  I took these pictures after we closed because out of protection of my clients, I'm not allowed to take pictures of them.
This is the day resource center, where clients can pretty much come and hang out all day.  Besides case work, which is what I do, there are usually other things going on for the benefit of our clients.

 This is my casework desk!  I didn't take a picture of my other desk in my office, because it's pretty underwhelming and I don't do a lot in there.  Anyway, this is where I meet with all my clients everyday and try to provide them with whatever it is they are looking for.  Clothing, housing, shelters, jobs, health care, food stamps, cell phones, IDs, birth certificates, eviction prevention, mental health treatment, and drug/alcohol treatment are just some of the things I do on a daily basis.

This is our dining room.  Lunch is served six days a week and never closes, not even in Blizzards.  There are 34 spots available at one time and we usually serve between three and four hundred people each day.  Due to my case work schedule I don't get to serve in the meal program very often, but every time I do it's a blast.

 So this chaos is my storage unit.  One of my main responsibilities is organizing all the new donations of clothes and hygiene items that come in, so I can give them to my clients during casework.  It usually isn't this crazy but we get a lot of food donations during the Holidays.  I'm in the process of setting up a canned food giveaway for next week.  So guess who went through all that food earlier this week?

 Ok so due to me being kind of dumb, these pictures are going to be pretty small, but hopefully it'll work.  Anyway, since he wasn't in the last picture, I felt obligated to put in a picture of Tim.  So that's Tim.  The picture above is really awful and I apologize.  Anyway, that's all of us at the National Aquarium with one of Jesuit support people Sean.

This picture is from the Stewart/Colbert rally.  In the ensuing party I was the only person from my house so I was adopted by the Camden house.  

These two pictures are from our party during Labor Day.  The first one is me and Tim with the lovely ladies from Raleigh.  They're a fun house whom we often swap drunk messages on our phones with.
This picture is me and Tim dancing.  After being challenged to a dance contest we may or may not have busted out a choreographed dance to Bye, Bye, Bye.  We also may or may not have practiced for a few hours the night before.

 This is my house!  Finally all six of us.  Ok starting with the bottom row.  Steph is from San Antonio and went to Our Lady of the Lake University, she works at St Francis Academy running an after school program.  Erin is from Connecticut and went to Holy Cross, she works at the Public Justice Center mostly doing eviction prevention.  Matt also went to Holy Cross and is from the 'Cuse, he teaches at Cristo Rey, a Jesuit High School..  Tim is from Atlanta but went to school up at Boston College, he is a resident assistant at the Don Miller Homes, a place for people with HIV/AIDS.  Dave also teaches at Cristo Rey.  He is originally from Cleveland, now lives in CT, and went to school at Providence College.

And this last picture is of me at the Newark Christmas party, after getting rid of my costume I had parts of eleven different JVC communities costumes on.  Great Success.

Ok well thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed all the photos.  As always, please post any comments or questions you have.  Love you all!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Rough Day at the Office and a Call to Action

Last Thursday, the 18th of November, I arrived to work about a half an hour before I’m supposed to.  This isn’t anything rare, as my arrival time is influenced solely by what time my bus picks me up.  As busses run on schedules, 8:30 is becoming the time I now start work.  Anyway, I showed up to work where things were on the brink of chaos, due to none of the security cards being there yet.  After I helped one of my coworkers Carl, who is an incredible man with an incredible story, set everything up, I walked back to my office thinking that this was surely going to be one of those days.  I had no freaken idea.
As soon as I got to my office I got a Carl who was working at the front desk saying that there was someone from John Hopkins Hospital on the line wanting to speak with a social worker.  As I was the only social worker there at the time, the call went to me.  I answered the phone, introduced myself, and asked what I could.  She replied, “I’m a social worker in the Emergency Room at JH, I have a Mr. (name omitted, sorry guys), and I need to get in touch with his next of kin.  The address for Beans and Bread was the only contact information he had on him.”
Oh shit I thought.  It is not a shocking statement to say that a lot of homeless die for various reasons; exposure, drug overdose, murder, malnutrition, or any other of the numerous causes.  I had wondered at various points in my first three months in Baltimore if I was going to have to experience the death of any of my clients.  Obviously that answer is yes.
With the social worker from John Hopkins still on the phone, I looked up the client’s information on our online database.  I didn’t recognize the clients name, we literally have over a thousand clients, with hundreds using our address as their own, and I wondered if I even knew him.  The information provided by our database proved to be of no help.  I then asked the social worker for a description of the client so I could go around to my coworkers and ask them if they could identify the man.
The first two people I talked to were one of our case managers for our permanent housing program and one of our security guards, both of whom had been at Beans and Bread for several years.  They quickly identified who the client was and in saddened voices told me who he was.  It was with great astonishment followed by sudden sadness that I realized who the client was.  He was someone who came to Beans and Bread everyday for apparently many years.  Minding how own business he came in not saying a word and slept for a couple in the exact same chair until we had to kick him out when we closed.  It then dawned on me, as we were standing in the front room, that I had seen him in that exact spot the day before.  It was a really weird feeling for me.
To this day I am surprised by how much this has been affecting me, I barely knew the man and don’t think I actually ever spoke with him.  This was an important moment for me because if I want to keep doing social work and working with the world’s poor I have to see this side of it.  One of the biggest things that struck was when a coworker responded after finding out by saying “There goes another name on the memorial wall.”  The death wasn’t a surprise, it was almost routine.  This situation really started getting to me as I found out more details about the death.
Every morning our clients line up to be either the first in line for our meal program or to sign up for casework and the other things our outreach center offers each day.  Since we do not open our doors until 8:30, many clients wait for quite a while to get into our facility.  From what I understand, the client collapsed while waiting in line on Thurday morning.  An ambulance was called, but didn’t show up for a half hour!  By that time it was already to late.  This is unacceptable.  Ambulances are often called at Beans and Bread due to clients going through withdrawal or having mental health breakdowns, and it would seem the dispatchers thought this was one of those times.
But I can’t get the thought out of my mind that they simply did not care, that a homeless man’s life is less important than the “average” mans.  Like so many times in our clients life, the system had failed him.  I do not know anything about his background but I am now mostly speaking in generalizations.  His education system failed him when they failed to provide an adequate education, quality teachers and equipment.  The prison system failed him when they locked him up for drugs or alcohol instead of helping him get treatment and kick his addictions.  His economy failed him when there were no jobs available for people with disabilities or addictions.  His city failed him when they were unable to build new houses to replace all those that had been torn again.  We failed him when we walked right on by without a word, or a smile, or even a quarter.  I failed him as his case worker, when I never reached out and try to provide a service that could have saved his life.
The time must come when we reevaluate our priorities as a society.  There is often a saying about the people of our generation who are interested in social work in that we really only care about the topic we are working on.  Like in my case, homelessness.  If we can realize that all the problems of our society are interrelated then maybe real progress can occur.  We can not continue to live the lives we living, because they directly lead to the suffering of others.  Changes have to be made.  And these changes need to be drastic.  But more than anything, we have to care.  We have to care about the lives of every single person we encounter and to do our part to improve the lives of those around us.  If every single person in the United States found even one cause and contributed, what a difference it could make!  Apathy can no longer be the defining adjective for our country, it must be love.  As someone much wiser than me once said, you don’t have to like everyone, but you do have to love everyone.
Thanks for reading, God Bless.  Please comment if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.