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Snippet from the Street: The Brick Broke

April 1, 2013  |  By Cathy Finn

"I got hit over the head with a brick last weekend. The brick broke."

You know that cat that wanders the neighborhood, ears all torn up, a couple of scratches festering underneath his fur, but still with a swagger that defies his appearance? I spent a few hours this afternoon with the human equivalent.

When he's with me, he's extremely respectful, a great conversationalist, always gently grateful for anything I do for him. Place him back in his own environment, the streets, fill him up with the substances that he spends a good part of his life chasing down, and he's a different man.

The other day we reviewed his recent activities, things that had happened in the last year or so. "I got stabbed, shot, hit on the head with a brick a couple times, oh, and the guy dropped that cement block on my foot."

I first met him shortly after the shooting; he had spent a couple of days in the hospital. The person who shot him clearly either had poor aim or didn't mean it, and I was not surprised that he claimed not to have any idea who did it. He's a frequent visitor to the ER and the jail. But he is very, very seldom a resident at the NOAH homeless shelter, and when I asked him why, he said that his girl wouldn't stay there, so he slept out in the woods with her, to protect her. They've been together for seven years; he is so protective of her I have never heard her name, although I know who she is from word on the streets. She's just "my girl".

I can't make appointments with this gentleman; I've never known him to keep to any appointment. I am overjoyed when he shows up at the Duffy Health Center and I'm there; we can sit and have a good long chat, I can catch up with what he needs, and try to get his needs met right then and there, because there may not be another chance. Today I brought him to the Department of Transitional Assistance to get a new food stamp card so that he can eat, and called another agency to try to get him a tent and tarp; they have been sleeping out in the open in the horrible weather of this late March. Forget the mental health and medical appointments I'd like to see him make; just because I think it is good for him does not get him to keep them. I can, right now, forget discussing good nutrition and housing options. We talk about how he will stay warm and dry, how he can make a vague attempt at being sober so he can keep out of jail.

This gentleman makes what the average person would think of as bad choices nearly every day of the year. He is aware of it, in the way that someone who is driving past a car accident is aware they probably shouldn't be staring; but he can't stop. Despite living so close to the edge that he sometimes falls into the abyss, he has an inner strength that keeps him clinging on to the very basic things of life. He gets up in the morning, literally shakes off the snow or dew, and sets out on another day of drinking, drugs, fights and taking care of his girl, the best way he can right now. I can't help but feel he really is something special, with an odd inner strength that has kept him going for the last seven year in the woods, jail and hospital.

The Duffy Health Center would like to publish statistics that say 100% of our clients are housed, sober and have all the benefits and basics they are eligible for and need. That is our goal, but this gentleman is sometimes our reality. The reality is sometimes less measurable; among our clients are people who have made huge strides when they have made a connection with someone else, when there is someone they can turn to when help is needed. In time, hopefully, that will turn into the measurable goals of home, health care and stable mental health. If it doesn't, Duffy Health Center, thanks to the generosity of your donations and contributions from state, federal and grant funds, will be there, wherever our clients call home.

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Cathy FinnCathy Finn
Case Manager
Duffy Health Center

Cathy Finn has worked on Cape Cod in the field of homelessness for the last 25 years, gaining experience with adults and children. She has been working full time as a case manager at the Duffy Health Center since September of 2012 working with chronically homeless single adults. Working with the homeless has always been a passion of hers and the compassionate view of the homeless advocated by Duffy Health Center and the affection for the clients she works with is central to her enjoyment of her job. She is the proud mother of two young adults, and also writes a monthly commentary on sports for the Barnstable Patriot.