I spent the past year and a half learning I knew nothing at all… actually, I was working at a homeless shelter. I’ll never forget my first day. I almost didn’t show up. I figured I’d catch a bad disease, encounter drugs, or be soiled in some way. I was not reassured that I would be a staff member in charge of facilities and intake case management.
Despite my unfounded fears, my work turned out to be fulfilling and rewarding. I loved my job and set out to dedicate my life to it. A year and a half later, I did decide to leave, though not for fear of the homeless. It was a fellow staff member who made attempts at my life. The homeless residents were quite safe and friendly! I got a Restraining Order, but never had it served. It doesn’t matter anymore; I’ve moved on.
My last day was extraordinary! The outpouring from both staff and residents was overwhelming. I did not realize how many people I touched in my day-to-day work. What I considered normal and part of my job had touched other people’s lives for the better.
Clients remembered phone calls of encouragement I made to them when they were waitlisted, nights I’d spent listening when they needed to talk, times I’d ensured everyone had food and refreshments, and multitudes of other things I did in the course of a day that seemed so ‘normal’ to me. But then I realized that the community looks down upon the homeless, steps over them, ignores them, and pushes them aside. I treated them with dignity and respect. They’re human beings, after all.
There is not a single one of us who could not find ourselves homeless. If you scoff at that, consider what would happen if your home and/or business burned down, disabling you in the fire, and your insurance company refused to pay. Anyone!
Interestingly, the homeless are some of the nicest, most honest, ‘real’ people I have ever met. Most of them work at least one job and bend over backwards to help others. I watched many flourish and become productive members of society because they got a reprieve from their plight at the shelter. Many, who have little food, share with those that have none. They look out for other human beings with care and concern and share their stories! I am a better person, both personally and professionally for having worked at the shelter.
The hardest part about leaving was the children. They all fought to sit in my lap… each realizing they were getting wet and looking up to see tears in my eyes. “Auntie? Why are you crying?” “Because they need me at my new job…” They looked away dejected and confused. I was a rock in their lives. Someone they looked up to. And that rock was crumbling. Yeah, I didn’t understand either. Not for the life of me. It was just time to move on.
So, I move forward with lots of work ahead and many more people to meet. I’ll never forget how it is the small, inconsequential, routine things that make the most difference. A moment and a few kind words really can change a life!
Me ka hau’oli a me ke aloha pumehana!
(With warmth, laughter, and love!)
A Current Reflection
had time before beginning my new job to reflect on the well-off segment of society... the society I'd always pretended to be a part of and was a part of, but did not feel like I fit in because I cared about humanity too much. These are the people who lie, cheat, and steal above the law to get ahead via corruption, insults, and stepping on others to "make something of themselves". All they make of themselves is a crook above the law at the expense of people who really care about others. The suits and dresses don't make them something better than the t-shirts and jeans... actually the dress make them worse.
They fight for the almighty dollar at the expense of the health and welfare of us all. Many of these people would do anything to earn a dollar, including supporting vaccines containing mercury knowing full well that mercury is a neurotoxin, promoting the writing prescriptions for antidepressants instead of diagnosing the real causes of fatigue because antidepressants make more money. It does not matter that antidepressants also make people suicidal, are addictive, and difficult to get off of. That's a plus because it means more revenue! This is not stepping on others who trust, this is outright stomping on them in the name of a dollar. Perhaps money and the market should be abolished altogether and all made equal!
I learned those that I should fear are not the homeless, the poor, and the addicted. They are the victims who are struggling to survive because of the those we should fear and their unscrupulous ways! They are the ones who are honest and would not hurt another, but are forced to steal for their basic needs and survival.
Many of those addicted to drugs were first given an addictive pain killer by a licensed doctor out to earn a buck who did not care that his patient would become addicted unknowingly when he trusted that he was being given a good medicine for his injury. Now that the injured patient is addicted, society turns it's back and accuses him of being a low life who does not want to work, is lazy, and has psychological problems... all because he trusted a doctor to take care of his work-related injury so he could go back to work and continue to support his family. Now he's homeless. Now he's addicted. Now he's stigmatized. Now he has perfect reason to develop situational depression and anxiety. Now he's prescribed antidepressants by mental health services that do not solve his problems causing his depression, but exacerbate them by making him suicidal. In essence they create a mental illness when he never really had one.
His depression was situational and what he needed was not damaging drugs but help to resolve his situation. He's dying, all because he trusted a supposedly upstanding citizen.
These upstanding citizens would not offer a crumb for a starving human being and step over homeless men, women, and children sleeping on the sidewalks without offering any assistance. The fear them because they do not understand them. They are different and they fear being like them. If they get near them they might catch the "homeless" disease. They think they are above it all and could never fall victim if they simply ignore the reality of it. They need to think again.
When a young man, a college graduate, went to the doctor to have his injury looked at he was given "medicine" for the pain. The doctor did not tell him oxycontins were addictive. The doctor did not tell him that he would lose his job and be labeled a drug addict and sent for counseling after being routinely urine tested because of a "zero-tolerance" policy that does not take into account the oxycontin was prescribed by a doctor. The doctor did not tell him that he would have difficulty getting a new job for the same reason and be unable to pay his rent as a result.
The doctor did not tell him that his family would have to move into a shelter because he could not find a job and that he would be denied admittance to the shelter and separated from his family because he was on prescription oxycontins and they too had a "zero tolerance" policy. The doctor did not tell him that he would have to sleep on the streets in the dead of winter because his distant family believed he had an addiction and just needed to get his act together. They figured if he "fell" down far enough he'd "wake up" and do something. Instead, he risked freezing to death.
The doctor did not tell him that he would soon learn from others on the streets that hard liquor is the only way to keep warm out there because police would not allow fires in public alleys at night. The doctor did not tell him that this would exacerbate all his other problems and he would now be considered an alcoholic because he did the only thing he could to avoid freezing to death and the cold was bitter and unbearable. He had no money, but alcohol can be found on the streets.
There he was merely trying to survive, to make it another day with hope that he could have his old life back. But now his record is tarnished, his credit bad, and he's been labeled and stigmatized. He will never again have a chance at a good job and will be on the system and require social assistance for the rest of his life. All because he trusted a doctor when he fell playing soccer with his boy on Saturday. Think this could not happen to you? Think again! It is quite a common scenario.
The sad part is that we as a society create these problems. We complain that our tax dollars are being spent to support those we stigmatize, yet those we stigmatize are there because of us. We are all responsible! It is time to wake up and see the truth... before it happens to us!
About the Author
Lourdes Salvador is a writer and social advocate based in Hawaii. She is the president of MCS America and a featured monthly writer for MCS America News at www.mcs-america.org. She is a passionate advocate for the homeless, having worked with her local governor to open new shelters and provide services to the homeless based on a presentation of her ideas. That passion soon turned to advocacy and activism for victims of multiple chemical sensitivity. For more information about Lourdes and her advocacy work, please visit: www.mcs-america.org,