New Eyes, Welcome to Hell

Today I had a new staff member join my team. It will be their job to work inside of a hospital emergency room and talk to clients who come in who are homeless, specifically those who are homeless with mental health or substance use issues.

While the same person has worked gently with Medical systems and in feeding homeless people in a volunteer position, this will be their first time as a dedicated advocate.

It really sucked to explain to them that there will be people who come in and are desperate for help home we cannot shelter because there are not enough beds available. There are enough bedrooms available in the city of Los Angeles and in LA county for every homeless person but there are not enough beds available and accessible that we can place people into.

And it is also harder for people to get into private beds on their own. The cost of rent is skyrocketing and a minimum wage job will not pay for rent anywhere. it is hard to find work that will give you a regular schedule and pay decently so that you can afford to rent a room in someone’s house or share a room in an apartment.

it was heartbreaking to discuss the stress that homelessness has on the families of our people who are homeless.

Everyday I have a mother and father who text me several times a day to ask if their daughter has reached out to me yet. Their daughter is sleeping in front of a tunnel and her phone does not always work. Today it rained in Los Angeles and she was cold and shivering and miserable and high. She says she wants to give up the drugs but she won’t make the commitment to going into a treatment center. And she dangles that hope of becoming clean in front of her parents and they bite at it like a carrot at a dog track. They run around in circles and hope to catch her and help her.

mom and dad want to rescue her and it was so depressing to explain to them that they can’t do this. That they could help her get into a treatment center but if getting clean is not her idea and her commitment, that she’s not going to stay clean. They might get 3 months of respite from worry once they know where she is but as soon as she’s out, assuming she graduates, she will become homeless again and continue to use and be right where she is.

I told my new staff member that they will experience a tremendous amount of guilt when they go home and turn on the heat and the TV and heat up dinner knowing that the people they saw today are sleeping under trees in the rain or under tarps at the wash or in cars in the driveway of their family and friends. That they will feel terrible when they go on vacation or call in sick because people who are truly homeless don’t get a vacation day from that.

I am so used to the constant stress and guilt of this that it striking when I have to initiate someone else into it. It’s kind of like saying, “Welcome to Hell, I expect to see you here 40 hours a week.”

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