After just recently celebrating my 2nd anniversary of working for the Harry Tompson Center, I reflected on the services that I have been able to bless our clients with. My goal every day is to give any client I can the feeling of HOPE.
When clients are sleeping in shelters, under bridges, and on park benches day after day, it can diminish any small amount of hope that they may have. Giving them a shower, washing their clothes, or maybe just inviting them in the office so they can release some frustrations can be what the need at the moment to make their journey a little easier. Connecting with the client starting with the initial intake is so important, especially when I am working on establishing trust on both ends. The housing process could be complicated with the requirements and rules that we have to abide by. Collecting homeless documentation can be one of the hardest things to accomplish. Shelters have limited nights that the clients can stay there, and spending nights on the streets can be dangerous. Many clients have to move around to try and stay safe.
During my first couple of months of working with The Harry Tompson Center, I met a gentleman by the name of Ernest Melville. He was an established client from the previous case manager before me and also had been housed previously by UNITY. The most significant issues we encountered were minimal documentation, and if he started to feel discouraged, he would disappear for weeks at a time. Some clients won’t show any interest in going through the process of housing- but my heart told me that although Mr. Earnest was showing resistance, I shouldn’t give up on him. Months passed, and Mr. Earnest showed back up and had a lot of documents needed for the housing applications!
I was so excited, I didn’t waste any time to begin his application process. After the application was submitted, another roadblock hit us- His mental diagnosis wasn’t severe as it needed to be for housing. I never gave up, though, and I showed up at every meeting to make sure I was able to advocate for Mr. Earnest. Over time, slowly but surely he was getting smaller in size, and a cough from just a common cold became worse and worse.
After months of advocating, I was finally able to get Mr. Earnest a housing referral through Depaul USA! This agency is one of our community partners at the Rebuild Center. After a couple of weeks, Mr. Earnest had moved into his apartment, but he wasn’t staying there much.
Turns out, he was in and out of the hospital because what we thought was just a nasty cough from a cold was actually stage 4 lung cancer. After being admitted into UMC Hospital for treatment, the Depaul staff and I made sure we saw Mr. Earnest as much as we could. For weeks we saw him every day. The smile that would come on his face when I would walk through the door made me feel like I was helping just a little of the pain to leave him and that I was making his journey just a little easier. By this time, he had a new caseworker, and his file was “closed” within my caseload. However, he always made sure he told me, “You’re always going to be my caseworker”!
As his condition worsened, he left the hospital and entered into a Hospice facility. After a few weeks, he progressed more and more to the end. As a service professional, I tried not to attach myself emotionally, but at the end of the day, I am still human. On my last visit, it was two days after his birthday. He was in the actively dying stage.
I was able to sit there for about 3 minutes before I just had to walk out because it became too much. About 2 hours after I left, we received the news that he had passed away. This was my first time going through the loss of a client, and it was harder than anything I could imagine. With support from the Rebuild staff, I was able to see the positive piece in this process. Although I will never see Mr. Earnest walk through my office door or hear his voice again, I will always have a place in my heart for him.
I can sleep at night knowing I did everything I could to get him housed, so he wasn’t suffering on the streets for his last few months. He was not alone during his final days, he was surrounded by love from all of us at the Rebuild Center and his family. Our job isn’t easy but making a difference in as many lives as we can is what we are here for. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to get to do what I love every day.
A JV’s Reflection
By Mike O’Connell
As both a Catholic and as a Jesuit Volunteer, I am asked to be a responsible steward of the earth. However, mainstream American culture seems more and more concerned with consumerism and accumulation of material items. The danger of such a culture, and the behaviors that it encourages, is that we focus only on our own easy, immediate happiness. We forget that a meaningful, happy, flourishing life must be about a cause greater than ourselves: it must be lived for others. JVC is a counter-cultural approach to living life. In the Jesuit Volunteer Corps formation program, volunteers are asked to build a greater awareness of this materialism, to understand the lives of those we accompany, and to evaluate how our choices impact the entire ecology of the human race.