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Snippet from the Street: Summertime and the living is easy?

July 10, 2013  |  By Cathy Finn

George Gershwin spoke a universal truth in his classic song; winter is gone and the tough things in life seem a bit easier to take. Sometimes life being easier and summertime arriving means that you now can to leave the crowded, noisy, difficult-to-live in shelter and pitch a tent somewhere. Life in a tent is hard, but there's no one telling you to line up to get a bed and you won't get kicked out because you're carrying a bottle of booze.

Living in a tent means you can't take a shower. Living in a tent means the cops might come by and take all your belongings away; the tent itself, your sleeping bag, your clothes and personal belongings.

Living in a tent means you have to go sit at the local fast food restaurant as long as they will let you, so you can dry out, cool down, or charge your phone.

Living in a tent means living with rain and thunderstorms, bugs and a rock under the tarp that is always in the wrong spot for optimum sleep.

I was asked by a friend the other day "Why do you get someone a tent? That's no way to live."

I looked that person right in the eye and said "Because if they didn't have a tent they might die." Often mentally, sometimes physically, these folks can't live as you and I might live. I know folks who cannot be confined by four walls, for many reasons it is too difficult. I know others who don't choose sobriety or even moderate inebriation-yet- and so can be disruptive when people are too close. I know men and women who won't let their loved ones stay alone out in the woods, if those loved ones can't bear living under rules and regulations. I know many, many people who feel the they don't deserve and may never 'earn' the right to have a safe, secure roof over their head, that that is their burden to carry along with insecurities, fear, anxiety and a pervasive sense of loss.

So, in the summer time, when at least some of the days are warm and sunny, when nights can have gentle breezes and clear stars overhead, the woods beckon.

Ah, but there is a price to pay for the 'freedom' from rules and behavioral restrictions. I know someone who has very painful feet from walking around in the warm summer rains; the physicians and nurses at Duffy Health Center are doing their best to keep her feet in good shape, but her lifestyle is working against her, and all of us, especially her, are afraid there will be more permanent damage down the road.

She, and many of my clients, is afraid of being out on their own. The world is not kind to the homeless, especially women. There are physical dangers, there are predatory people, there's minute by minute uncertainty, yet she is not able to find safer accommodations, due to choices she is making in her life, choices that she feels she is unable to change at this time. For all my folks, the trite phrase "They won't change until they're ready" is the raw truth; until then, we get those tents.

I hear tales of the camps; fights, companionship, isolation or friendships. They don't want to be found, they usually don't want to be alone. They don't want anyone to tell them how to live, and they depend on whatever money they get from the state, often just a few hundred dollars or less in food stamps a month.

Their only bills are cell phone bills with minimal minutes so they can have some sense of safety, often not even that.

It's hard for them to keep any scheduled appointments, as any appointment cards I give them get wet, the ink runs into oblivion, and they call me to tell me they have no idea when we are meeting next. So I meet them when I can, sometimes on the streets, sometimes at lunch at the Salvation Army. I meet with them to check in, to see how they are doing, what they need, and to test the waters to see how close they might be to deciding that, indeed, living in a tent is no way to live. I've had a few people say to me, "Okay, I've decided I'm too old (or too tired or too sick) to do this anymore, how can I get in some place?"

After I warn them it's not something that can happen overnight, we look at their options for housing. Often it requires a huge change in their lifestyle, but sometime, just sometimes, the person is ready for that, and the Duffy case manager is there to help on the road to Health, Hope and Home. Many times there are stops and starts along that road, but it is a road where the first step may have been someone getting them a tent.

At Duffy we all live for the days when we can quote to someone we work with another line from the song "Summertime":

"One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky."

For anyone who wishes to help our clients, please consider dropping off bottles of suntan lotion and tarps that can be distributed to those in need. These simple, inexpensive things are beyond our clients means, yet they are greatly needed.

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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.