Countdown to less coldness.

This winter has been a challenging one. The weather here has been colder than normal and constantly wet. We do not have the excitement of several inches of snow here, just enough to make the roads a mess and still not have a snow day! ( :P) This weather is hard on our clients and hard on the staff. The SWES shelter takes a lot of energy from the core program, even though it is crucial for our clients to make it through winter.
Good news from SWES however, is that we have been able to strengthen partnerships with housing programs and get some of our most vulnerable people people into treatment and or housing. There is one program we work with in particular that has exemplified the potential in partnership and collaboration. New Lease On Life is a dual diagnosis housing program for chronically street homeless. We bring them a referral and team up to make the connections needed to get the ball rolling. They initiate care from an integrated team of psychiatrists, nurses, therapists and social workers and we help by bringing people to them, helping them understand their whereabouts and doing outreach for them. This collaboration is the direction social services needs to head if there is any hope for providing true continuity of care and housing stability in the most vulnerable. Such a model is perfect for those who are dually diagnosed, but the most impressive part of NLOL is that they meet people where they are. They provide structure and support but are flexible to the needs and wishes of clients. They help people develop their own goals in wellness, education and employment. Most importantly to me honestly, is that they see our people as people. They recognize their humor, their charm and their value. In health care especially, it is easy for providers to see diagnoses, psychiatric evaluations, criminal records and physical appearance as the focus of who people are. To treat the label, to judge the appearance and to fear the records inhibit providers and the like from hearing the voices of our clients and seeing their hearts. It is easy to shrug off the disheveled, odorous grump who drinks heavily or the man who talks to himself and has obsessive compulsive tendancies. What is important is that you give the person time to be heard. To learn that the disheveled man was a skilled mechanic, that hes got a great sense of humor and that he is kind. It is imperative to see that the man with schizophrenia is just that, a man. He is not a threat, a burden or undeserving of care.
The fun stuff:
Though the winter can be overbearing on us all, we have definitely tried to make the best of it in community! Last week was Sean’s birthday and we all set out to the Hofbrauhaus Beer Garden/restaurant last weekend. It is a massive dining hall with a German theme where everyone (literally all ages and families too early on) stand on tables and sing along to the music and cheer. It was a sight to see and we all had a lot of fun. We were also invited to family dinner with Sean’s family, which is ALWAYS a blast. His family has been extremely welcoming to us as a community. We ate jumbalaya, laughed and shared lots of cake and ice cream. (unrelated, but I have tried so many new foods since coming to Pittsburgh!)
We have also been talking with and meeting potential volunteers for next year. This is an important time for post grad volunteer applications so it has been exciting for us all to be a part of someone elses experience!
This weekend we are going on our Silent Retreat. For those of you less familiar with such a concept, this is a time for us to spend time quietly reflecting. We are given guidlines to spend our time intentionally and encouraged not to use phones or even read. I honestly anticipate this to be a challenge for me but I am hopeful that it will be a peaceful and restful time in the midst of this month.
I am hoping to hit the ice this weekend with Rachel, it has been too cold to do much of anything outside for quite a while.
That is all for now! Sorry for the sporadic nature of blogging as of late, I am in need of some recalibration in my time management. 🙂

508 to 412

 I just realized I never shared about my weekend with DEVON! I picked up Devon with my friend Amy from the airport and I was dancing around in the car with excitment. She and I spent the night hanging out with my roommates and catching up at my favorite coffee shop. (This place has the best real hot chocolate known to man). Winter has made me pretty homesick, so seeing Devon was the breath of Boston air I needed. Ben joined us on Saturday to frolick around snowy Pittsburgh, seeing the sites and meeting a friend of hers from home. We spent the night hanging out with my community and dancing around the kitchen. Not much has changed. We went to one of our favorite parishes, where ironically enough the homily was about Operation Safety Net. Sean, Ben Devon and I set off to Ritters Diner then toured the Cathedral of Learning, which is University of Pittsburgh’s own little Hogwarts. Devon and I made an awesome mexican casserole for dinner for my house to end the day. Having Devon come see my life, meet Ben and my community was important to me, beyond the obvious withdrawals from my partner in crime. It is hard to really share what my world is like through voice or blog. Needless to say, Milgate didn’t want her to leave, and neither did I! I think people were amused by the two of us together as we are extremely similar…I wish I could better describe this, but essentially we entertain each other endlessly. I think Devon coming to visit my community was a definite highlight of my experience in my Change a Heart world.

Point In Time

The non profits who provide care to the homeless in this reigon are required to conduct a point in time survey that is used to gain a census and provide a needs assessment for the homeless population. Many of our programs were involved in the conduction of this survey, but I had the unique opportunity of helping conduct these surveys on the street with outreach staff and medical students. Each street team was assigned three different areas of the city to scan and survey. Each client we encountered was asked to answer about twenty questions about their medical, social and psychological history. The days allotted to this survey also happened to be some of the coldest days this winter. Because of the cold, many of our typically street homeless sought refuge with family or friends, abandoned buildings, restuaruants, churches, libraries, warming stations and subway stations. We are limited in our abilities to seek clients when they are inside for privacy reasons and in regards to the standards of the facilities being utilized. Seeking homeless on the streets was a personal challenge for many of us in our little team. It felt as though each party became the ‘other.’ As we inquired about their lives, asking about their homelessness, their family lives and criminal backgrounds, it felt as though we were creating barriers between us “the providers” and them “the receivers.” In no other experience have I had to ask these questions of someone when they are not seeking care or help. Though this survey will help sculpt the types of service provided to the population, it is hard to remember that when you are asking these questions and being asked. I am grateful for this experience not only because it will hopefully help our clients receive more and better services, but also because it provided for me, a reminder that the only genuine way to approach service is to see those you serve as equals, working together to create better circumstances.