The holidays have definitely thrown me off kilter with my blogging dilligence. I apologize for this, but I hope to get back into the swing of things now!
This month has been busy, stressful and cold. This time of year is challenging for OSN and all homeless providers in the north I imagine. Even though I am not on the front lines of managing the effects of cold weather for our clients most of the time, everyone can feel the pressure of trying to ensure the safety of our guys and ladies in this severe weather.
The hardest part about dealing with rough sleepers in cold weather is recognizing the free will of others. As an outsider in the world of homelessness, it is extremely difficult to fathom why someone would choose to stay outside when it is below zero. It is natural for me at least, to push to get those guys inside. There is a blurry line in the balance of keeping people safe and allowing them their natural right of free will. In this same light, there is one person in particular who stands out as one of our biggest challenges in homeless services. He is a late middle aged gentleman, chronic alcholic with severe chronic disease as a result of years of abuse. He is physically weak at baseline, but was beaten up by someone causing head injury and increased deterioration. He is not actively psychotic and has no history of psychotic illness. He has no income (no SSI/SSDI) and was living with a friend, which we call “doubled up.” He is very sick but cognitively aware enough that we cannot commit him involuntarily for psychiatric reasons. (inability to care for self or harm to self or others). His housing options are extremely slim because of his lack of income, substance abuse and lack of severe mental health issues. For him, his options are rehab, hopsital or street. Knowing this is difficult. He is gentle and kind but deep into the throws of addiction. Though addiction takes everything from you even down to rationality or concientiousness at times, that path is his alone to conquer. For now, he will stay in our severe weather shelter when its open, at his camp if not until something changes, either getting SSI or choosing recovery. These decisions are not ours to make as providers, no matter how much we wish it was possible. Watching someone who not only has inherent value as a human, but also someone OSN has been able to get to know and care about make harmful decisions is humbling. We, I, you, whoever, cannot do it all.