In mid September I came into brief but intense contact with a rather wonderful human being by the name of – well, let’s call him Roy. Roy wandered, or rather hobbled into our place – The United Church Food Bank - one Tuesday morning. Swollen feet clad in too-small sandals, swollen legs wrapped in gauze bandages and clad in khaki pants. He was neat, clean, bearded, intense, and thin. Possessed of a strong personality and a hesitant frame, he’d come by to find food and seek out a blanket as his sleeping place was cold and damp.
We found him a sleeping bag, gave him what food he could carry and eat without cooking. Put up the note he wrote seeking a ride to another community on our bulletin board, and sent him off to PLP in search of better footgear. It was cold, and wet in Trail in mid-September. We found some financial resources for him, hoped he’d make it to a motel for the night, and watched with helpless reluctance as he shuffled off down Pine Avenue.
He came back the next day. Took me to his sleeping quarters (on my insistence). He had a pallet made up at the bottom of the stairs below Halls Printing. I made up my mind to get him off the streets; on the bus; into a motel…something. I’d gotten to know him a little and, once you know someone, it’s hard to put them back onto the street.
He was 77 years old. Had a history of interactions with our healthcare system that left him able to cope on many levels, but marked, just the same, as a patient who’d bear watching, who had many interactions, who might not, perhaps, engender trust or care, might be irritable, or ‘difficult’. Maybe that’s why he’d been told to leave the shelter of the hospital so forcefully the night before. I suppose he could have made that up, but his anxiety on being asked to return there (his legs were in awful shape, you could smell them, through his carefully self-changed bandages) made it clear that something had gone on.
It’s a rather long story. A story of days of interaction with various systems: Service Canada; Canada Pension; Welfare; Revenue Canada; the MP’s Office; IHA Social Services; the Castlegar Hospital; Home Care Nurses; a local housing group; and a couple of local motels to name a few. Three people (myself and two others) walked with him all over Trail.
We found willing people everywhere, sympathy, everywhere, persons who could, would and did, stretch their systems to the maximum to help him in any way they could. And through it all, he maintained his dignity, his integrity and his insistence on his ability as a human being to determine his future to the best of his ability to do so. In the end, we helped sort out his finances, restore a little of his health and sent him on to another community, where he insisted he could find more assistance than Trail has available.
Roy, it’s true, was one of those ‘transient’ homeless. The ones we have (or so I’m told it’s been said in the Trail Times) no room for because we cannot find the resources to adequately house or feed or support our own homeless. I’m here to tell you that I have a glimmering of a smidgen of an understanding of the complexity of the issues faced by Roy and, through his kind intervention in my complacency, those others who also drop into our place for food and blankets and other elements of life.
He taught me that one can be a 77 year old man with a long history of interaction with caring people, and one can still, in our society and our community, be left to sleep in a stairwell, huddling wounded legs against the cold. Regardless of where he came from (and don’t we all come from the same place, anyway?) he was here, he was ours to care for. If some of us missed the opportunity to offer him the care he needed, in the way he needed it, we need not despair. He remains among us, in the person of many others who are, like him and us, God’s children, in need of our compassionate, loving response. It is, I think, far past time we came together to discuss the situation and how best to respond to it. I’m glad to hear that people in our area are paying some attention to the need. Now it’s time to attend to the humans who cry out for it.