Movement of Irremovable Rejects!
I'm not just speaking about the "least"; I'm speaking about the "least of the least"
I'm not just referring to the "homeless"; I'm referring to the "chronically homeless"
I'm not just talking about the "sick"; I'm talking about the "frightfully sick"
I'm writing about a group of people who gravely exceed the normal bias and prejudice that the majority of the homeless population receive. I'm delving into a group of folk who even homeless people "love to hate"; an isolated section of society that is scorned without remorse. I'm speaking about individuals who seem to face greater adversary, rejection and humiliation than any other section in modern day America.
It is the sad reality that many of these folk have been so alienated, that most homeless shelters even reject them, causing them to sleep outside in parks, on trains, under viaducts, in abandoned buildings and on loading docks. And beyond that, they often cannot even receive assistance when they enter a social service agency. Sadly, nothing negates the reality that their rejection and humiliation is gravely detrimental to their sheer survival and any grain of hope!
These men and women cannot be summed up in a simple sentence, or even a single paragraph, because they represent a huge variety of alienating prejudices. It is the horrible reality of poverty that unites this mass of chronically homeless and precariously housed individuals. Beyond all else, it is their poverty that deems them unforgivable; it is their poverty that has clung tightly to their other reject-able qualities.
A person who has been ravaged by the "undesirability" of homelessness, is deemed even more "undesirable" when coupled with other "undesirable" traits; maybe it's their mental illness, drug addiction or alcoholism, maybe they have a personality disorder, PTSD or schizophrenia, maybe it's their sexual orientation, skin color or age, maybe it's their criminal history, gang affiliation or acquaintances, maybe it's because they are a veteran, transgender or HIV positive, maybe it's because of a physical disability, a chronic illness, personal hygiene or a host of other things that isolate these men and women. More often than not, these rejected and dejected souls claim not just one of these "maybes", but many of these "maybes", pushing them further and further away from mainstream society, deeming them more and more unlikely to succeed.
Despite this avalanche of negativity I just subjected on everyone, there is HOPE. This hope reveals itself in the workings of a few who have decided not to reject these men and women. A few who have decided to love them and say "we will not push you away; you are accepted and we will help you."
It is an absolute honor to personally know a few of Chicago's "least of the least of these". Despite appearances and a propaganda that calls me to fear these folk, I have discovered that love, generosity and community reigns supreme in this group of rejects. Yet, I have also discovered that each and every individual within their loving "rejected community" needs an advocate; that is somebody or some people who'll enter in their clique, stand up for them and help them move forward. These advocates are people who have relative power to make change happen.
Thankfully, I can testify that I am seeing change happen, I am seeing a ray of light rise in the slums and hope refuses to dissipate. I am a witness to the miraculous movement of people deemed "irremovable".
|Bernard with his brothers; showing off his new keys|
Not all the people I have been writing about stay at Cornerstone, but our doors are open to them in various ways. Through this undeniable connection, these men and women are moving into their own apartments at a steady pace. One by one, their names arise and they move from the streets into the relative warmth and comfort of their own apartment. We're seeing more and more chronically homeless folk successfully moving, knowing that some of them have experienced more than a decade of homeless realities.
I believe that seeing and experiencing this, is nothing, yes nothing, short of a miracle! It was a miracle when we saw the female who was ranked as Chicago's most vulnerable person housed a year ago. We'd known her for a long time, she'd spent time staying with us and we knew her many complicated needs. After many years of homelessness and endless hospital visits, Sheina got her keys and moved into her own apartment. She remains there to this day! We worked with other agencies and we all played big parts in ensuring that this very sick and vulnerable woman successfully made it.
Sheina is just one of the many. Last week, I got calls about another 7 individuals who are all very vulnerable and need housing as soon as possible. Because of our connections and networking, some of them may get there in just days, while for others it could be months. One thing we do know is that it will happen, eventually! We're talking about 6 men and 1 woman who all are chronically homeless and struggle with different ailments; to give a little insight into who we're talking about; one has had a stroke, another is HIV positive, another has congestive heart failure, another has cirrhosis of the liver, a few struggle with alcohol and a couple have debilitating schizophrenia and other mental illnesses; these mentions are just a few of the many "quality of life" conditions they all struggle with every day.
These 7 individuals constantly, and I mean constantly, rotate in and out of emergency rooms, hospitals and jails. This is primarily because of medical and psychiatric issues and their inability to get appropriate medication, consistent rest and eat healthy meals. Their short jail stints are normally caused by their homelessness, as they frequently commit minor misdemeanors, such as loitering, criminal trespassing, public urination and having an open can of beer on the sidewalk. This constant rotating in and out these places costs us all a ton of money, yet when they get housed, studies reveal that this rotating greatly decreases and therefore saving taxpayers a ton of money......
|image credited to Midwest Harm Reduction Institute|
.....proving to us all, the wonderful truth, that Housing is Harm Reduction!
We've heard about Sheina and her miraculous story. Because of her countless seizures, I cannot recall how many times she would rotate in and out of the local ER in any given year. Because she is now housed, and because she can constantly rest, eat and regulate her medications, she hardly ever needs the services of 911. Housing has made her a less expensive person, and more importantly, a healthier person!
Today, I walked down Lawrence Avenue, and as I passed Bernard and we communicated, his presence caused me to celebrate. We played a vital part in him being housed last month. We put his name forward, located him, provided shelter and assisted him in countless ways. Homelessness, schizophrenia, seizures and alcohol had clung onto him for more than a decade; now he's housed in an apartment that offers case management and wrap-around services. It's the perfect place for Bernard!
I looked at my friend and smiled, because this man now looks healthier and fitter. He was walking with his brother, who happens to be one of the 6 men I mentioned above, and I know that he will also be housed in the not-too-distant future! That also makes me smile, knowing that this man's quality of life will improve, just like Sheina and his brother Bernard!
These men and women I've been writing about are this country's "least of the least!"; they're people that have been envisioned with no hope or prospects. Yet, miracles do happen and hope is still alive and well in Uptown.
We too must cry aloud with Jesus and the Prophet Isaiah;
"A BATTERED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK OFF,
AND A SMOLDERING WICK HE WILL NOT PUT OUT,
UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY.
(Matthew 12:20 NASB)