The Christmas season in Pittsburgh was not the same as the feeling of New England, but it was a lot of fun to share the joys of Christmas with my amazing community. We did a secret santa, had way too much fun with ugly sweater photoshoots and shared many holiday treats.
I went with a friend to the Phipps Conservatory which was gorgeously decorated for the Christmas season. Phipps is filled with incredible plant and flower exhibits coupled with beautiful glass sculpture. Its one of the most beautiful places in Pittsburgh. I will try and post some pictures on this of the exhibits!
We also went to mass at Saint Benedict the Moor in the Hill District. I mostly go to masses in Bloomfield, Lawrenceville or Oakland with my community, but we always talked of the gospel choir and powerful presence felt at Saint Benedict the Moor. I was not dissapointed by this experience in any way! It was one of the most communal churches I have experienced with beautiful music and spirit that is tangible. It is a bit of a hike for us, but I hope to make it there regularly! I have struggled to find a place that feels as sacred to me as Saint Anselm’s Abbey Church, but this place could fit the bill!
Flying home was a lot of fun. I had awesome headphones from a friend, a fully charged phone and good snacks. The people I sat with were friendly, die hard Steelers fans who were fun to talk to as we waited for our plane to arrive. It was cool to see their side, as they were visiting family in Boston as native Pittsburgh residents and I was going home as a transient Pittsburgh resident.
Today I need to do some serious last minute packing, prepping and shopping for Christmas. The time has flown since I have been home and now I have quite the to-do list. I am thrilled to see my family and friends throughout this week, its a great feeling to be home and surrounded by my own world again.
There are moments throughout my experience that remind me strongly of the importance of a place like Trail Lane Apartments. I was graced by two fo these moments just recently. I will start with my girl Donna(not her real name, HIPPA HIPPA). Donna is a late middle aged woman who has been chronically street homeless. She is well known to the homeless providers of the city for her sweet nature, sass and extreme vulnerability. Donna’s social history is widely unknown but it seems as though there is some intellectual disability and past manipulation of her by family or friends because of this. She is often seen on the streets of downtown, but more recently there have been some serious concerns for her safety and well being brought to us by the local police and our outreach workers. As luck would have it, Trail lane had an opening the very afternoon we were contacted about little Donna because one of our temporary room residents was moving to a full apartment. Matt and I whisked around Trail Lane to set up both the rooms for our present resident and our to be resident Donna. Donna’s case manager wanted her to be safe from people who have been harrassing her and the bitter cold of Pittsburgh winters. I had met Donna months ago on street rounds and dreamed of getting her into Trail Lane, even temporarily. (we have temp housing for people and permanent. she is placed in temp because her case manager wants to find her more supportive housing than Trail Lane 🙂 ) We picked her up from the drop in center and brought her to Trail Lane, gave her a quick tour and she was asleep on the leather recliner couch before we could even finish setting up her room. Its a blessing to see the immediate sense of comfort in those who enter Trail Lane. She has been living the life at Trail Lane for a little over a week and loves being able to have her own room, bed and radio. She often comes to me to tell me how shes cleaning it and enjoying her time. To see someone like Donna, who is incredibly at risk of physical, social and emotional trauma on the street.
Another experience I had recently is not as cheerful, but just as meaningful. One of our permanent residents, who only months ago came to Trail Lane after years of resisting housing passed away of cancer in our care. Bob (again, not his real name) was the kindest and most gentle soul of all of our wonderful residents of Trail Lane. He would update us all on the weather, news and most importantly, baseball. The man loves baseball.I honestly believe that the excitement of both the Pirates and Redsox this fall helped him cope with his pain and fears as his condition worsened. Everyone that works at Trail Lane has a special place in their heart for Bob, so when he became too ill to receive treatment outside of the home, all of the staff showered him with the care he needed. His outstanding primary care doctor (Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center is THE BEST primary care around, I have no doubt) helped us refer him to hospice immediately upon realizing his need. All of us case managers welcomed hopsice with open arms. Their team was incredible, kind, dedicated and savvy. Hospice care was no doubt the biggest blessing of this experience for collaborative and supportive reasons. They went above and beyond to help us keep Bob home for as long as possible. When the time came for him to go inpatient for pain management, the transistion was swift and seamless, but we did not feel as though we were left behind in the action, as many family members do when something serious is happening medically. Bob desperately wanted to die at home, at Trail Lane, but we could not manage his pain well enough. I know that he is looking down at us from heaven and knows why we had to bring him to the inpatient center. Thankfully, the inpatient center was exactly what we wanted. The “feel” and comfort of Trail Lane with access of IV Dilaudid. BINGO! Thats the stuff. All of us spent time with Bob at his end of life, together and alone, sharing with him our caring, support and wishes for him to be at peace. He passed comfortably with Melody with him. by the grace of God that Bob came to us at Trail Lane, that he was able to pass away comfortably and surrounded by love. So many of our most needy do not have these blessings. We are grateful not only for hospice and comfort, but for the avoidance of the alternative. The alternative being the streets, an abandoned house or busy ER, alone, cold and in pain.
This website depicts images of the invisible people of our cities. Though its located in NY and not Pittsburgh, the suffering is universal. Addiction has no discretion, no perferences and no boundaries in those afflicted by its course. I meet people like these every day. Just as the article calls for, the most important thing to remember is that they are still people. I typically stray away from specific stories of the people I meet for privacy and confidentiality reasons, but I feel as though this article creates a perfect portrait of the struggles my clients face. No matter what I end up doing with my life professionally, I always want to remember these people. The invisible ones. Find love in their hearts, resiliency in their lives and perspective in their suffering.
My heart is always full at Operation Safety Net. It is full of stories, sadness, small joys, and dissatisfaction. I find dissatisfaction in needs unmet, in people forgotten and complacency with our healthcare and housing system. Joy in singing to the radio with clients on their way to safe shelter, in the constant humor of dealing with “infestations” of all kinds and the endless stories and tall tales of the streets.
I’m not lucky, I’m blessed.
This week has been a lot of fun for us as we prepare more for the holiday season!
A friend and I went to dinner and I had my first real taste of Indian food! I was surprised at how much I liked it. Sometimes it is challenging to try new foods when you live on a budget so my palate was especially grateful. I joined a few friends in having a crafternoon where we created gifts, decorations and more for the holidays. For those of you who did not know, the sight of cardstock and glitter is close to heaven for me. Saturday night we all gathered our best holiday apparel….I obviously opted for the red sock monkey onesie and headed out to a friends place to celebrate the season! We had a great family photo shoot which I hope to share on here at some point.
Work has been a bit more of the usual, I am interested in finding a way to make a big picture impact on the program and the people I serve beyond the every day tasks of case management. Though I love the work I do and I appreciate the value of our mission, I am interested to see how change can be affected in a way that alleviates some of the every day obstacles we face in working with our population, especially in regards to their physical and mental health. In the long run I would love to dedicate some of my life to education and changing the way the health care system approaches care of vulnerable populations and help to educate people on the social, emotional, physical and spiritual effects of economic poverty. I will try to keep you all updated as i ponder this concept.
Today is a day of catch up for many of us, bathrooms need to be cleaned, groceries purchased and food prepared for the Christmas party we have been invited to by the director of our program! I am off to tackle the tasks of the day.
Though this season is extremely busy and chaotic for many, I am trying to take each day with the basis that we are supposed to see this season as a time of love, community and giving as we await the birth of Jesus. I try to seek more patience, relaxation and joy in this special time of year.
So I thought this was posted a few days ago, so much for that!
Last night I had the unexpected treat of having dinner with a friend before working SWES, which has been a busy but successful experience. We went to a little bistro/pub in the cultural district before heading to Smithfield St. to work the shelter.
Tonight I am headed to Thai food with the WHOLE community in honor of Kelly’s birthday! Everyone is very excited to go out to dinner together for the first time!
Change A Heart has a twitter now! The directors and community have access to this account so that we can share more of our every day and news through Twitter! The account handle is @change_a_heart! Check it out!