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Thinking of your Face

The other day I left work and felt overwhelming sadness and a sense of helplessness.  I hadn’t worked in a few weeks but read stories of clients returning to old drug habits and going out on the streets and others who just made more poor choices resulting in their being exited from the  program at the mission.  As much as it pains me, I have had to kick out clients who have chosen to not follow the rules.  It hurts to have to look into their eyes and tell them that because of their own bad choices they must suffer the consequences of their actions.
A client who went back out to use, sticks in my mind and lately I keep thinking about him.  He was kind when he wanted to be but in his mind was convinced he didn’t deserve to live.  He blames himself for his girlfriend’s death from an overdose many years ago and can’t get past that memory.  He keeps replaying the tapes and now years later as his body has started to fall apart from years of abuse he continues on his self-destructive path.  Kicked out yet again for bad behavior he is dying and in need of medical attention but is somewhere on the streets.
I often look for him in hopes that I will see he is doing well.  I’m haunted by his and others like him whose name and story I now know.  Most of them have anger issues, the slightest thing can set them off, so other tip toe around them.  I see it as a defense mechanism they fight so that others will stay a safe distance when really it is a cry for attention and love.  My heart breaks for those on the streets like this who just can’t seem to love themselves and are simply passing time partying until they can finally die.
So haunted am I by these faces that as I work I silently pray for the residents in the programs as I pass their doors during my shift.  I never know who could be gone that very day or the next as the street pries them away from safety and back into clutches of the of its’ suffocating grasp.  Life back on the streets, I have seen, ends in death.
But not all who act up and go back out into the streets are addicts.  Some sadly are those with severe mental illness.  Those who act out because of a disturbed mind, their personality disorder makes them rebel against authority.   A few times in my work with the homeless I have met those who simply don’t know who they are.  They for whatever reason have lost who they are and where they came from.  They have used the name of whom they believe to be as their own for years and are known by this.  The individual can’t get help or care because they don’t exist in the system.  After one has been fingerprinted and not shown up in the system, there is nothing any agency can do to help.  And so these nameless individuals go back into the streets.  Their faces haunt me as I wonder whose father, mother, daughter or son are they.  I wonder what they were like in high school.  How old were they when their mother let them go on a date?  They are people too and somewhere out there they have concerned family members who see the same face I see and are kept awake wondering if they are dead or alive.  Maybe the family has given up hope after working with authorities for years trying to find them but never getting a lead.
Talking to David the Water Man Ross on the phone the other night he was explain this same feeling of helplessness.  He was speaking about a lawsuit he won against the city of San Diego.  He explained that it took three years of fighting and hours sitting in rooms with lawyers to win a lawsuit against the city because of the mistreatment of the homeless.   As a part of winning, The Water Man Check-In Center, a free homeless storage facility was a result.  He was upset because to this day he said as people talk about the Check-In Center they never once talk about the people.   No one ever says I wonder what would happen to the people and their lives if the center fails or shuts down.  Instead they talk about the stuff and numbers and statistics.  “I don’t want to be known as anything, but I’d hope to have a place where my people are welcome. That is my dream.”  He said before I hung up with him.
Caridad’s slogan is humanizing the homeless.  Our three goals are socks, underwear and education.  Homelessness won’t end overnight and you may never know each one of those sleeping on the streets story, but through education we can make a difference.  Please take the time to learn how you can help the homeless by simply learning what is fact and what is fiction.  If you aren’t comfortable going to the streets or serving at a place where homeless are you can help by donating money, no matter how small it does matter.  Call organizations and see what their immediate need is instead of giving them what you think will be useful.  For each sad story of an individual who is back on the streets there are hundreds more of success stories of people whose lives were changed by a program and are thriving.  You can make a difference.  My challenge to you reading this is to please go out and do something today!

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