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Snippet from the Street: Help Us, It’s Hot!

July 19, 2013  |  By Cathy Finn

Finally, finally last Thursday I was almost brought to tears.

I pride myself on being the tough girl with the mushy center. Twenty seven years of working with the homeless means I have, hopefully, learned to do what needs to be done and move on; if I hadn’t picked up that skill, I’d have slid into work in a whole other career.

But Thursday…I’m haunted by Thursday.

Heat wave. Heat wave and then some.

Days upon days of heat have been pouring down upon us. I jump from my air conditioned car to my air conditioned office and still feel miserable and complain. My clients sit in my car and sigh with relief, even though the AC often can’t keep up with the heat pouring through the windshield, by their reckoning they are in Eden.

I know where I can find many of my clients these days; look for a shady place, hopefully with a bit of breeze, some place where they won’t be ousted for being too loud or just not looking right. There are a few spots like that around, and workers from Duffy, Vinfen and Homeless Not Hopeless, among others, try to make the rounds with water and words of support as often as they can.

Being homeless with no money means that you can’t even get a sip of water. Fast food places and convenience stores charge 50 cents for the cup even though the water is free. There are no public water fountains. For our people, who are where they are in life due to a thousand different reasons, from 7:30 am when the NOAH shelter closes, to 4:30pm when it opens up again, the day is spent wandering in search of shade and breeze, sweating into clothes that they can’t afford to launder, trying to hide in the crush of tourists who wander the streets of Hyannis.

I was headed over to the NOAH shelter for a meeting about 4 pm in Thursday. It was nearly ninety degrees and I had some bottles of water in my trunk, I thought I would hand them out to any of the folks who had gotten to the shelter early to line up for a bed.

I approached three of the guys. “Want some water?”  I extended a bottle towards them.

They’re first look at me was guardedly cautious. They know me, but that is always their first look…

“Sure,” said one guy quietly. He grabbed the bottle and said “You’re a sweetheart.” After the first guy took it, the two others followed, each of them giving me words of praise. I got praise for giving them bottles of water, one of the basics of life that the rest of us take for granted.

So I went back to my car and loaded up a bag of bottles, and met the folks as they approached the shelter, bedraggled and walking slowly to conserve energy. I gave everyone I could water. I heard repeated words of thanks, usually in a tone of amazement and gratitude. I was able to approach a few people who had never wanted to have contact with me before, because I was offering something they needed so badly.

Those bottles of water cost me $1.97 for the lot on sale at the supermarket. In exchange, I eased someone’s suffering. You can’t ask for a better trade off than that.

Sweating person after sweating person slowly walked to the shelter. The bottles disappeared too fast, each with a word of gratitude for such a very simple thing.

That’s what nearly brought the tears, such deep gratitude for a bottle of water. So simple, so easy, so needed. It was so appreciated.

During these hot days, if anyone would like to drop off a case of bottled water, fans to be used at the NOAH shelter, or anything that would help ease the difficulty of life in the heat for those living on the streets, please bring them to the Duffy Center, and I promise they will be distributed to those in need. You can’t do anything simpler or more effective to ease someone else’s suffering during this summer heat wave.

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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.