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Snippet from the Street:
Walk on By

February 25, 2013  |  By Cathy Finn

I was out and about one extremely windy, extremely rainy evening the other day. I had timed my visit to the NOAH shelter carefully; a while after it opened; not early enough to have to stand in the whipping rain to talk to my clients, but not late enough that I pass out from hunger on the way home to dinner. A luxury, I might add, that my clients don't have. They either stand in the rain or don't get a bed.

I pulled up to park just as an ambulance with flashing lights pulled up behind me. "Rats," I thought," I have an appointment in 20 minutes." I couldn't reach the woman as she didn't have a phone, and I didn't want her waiting in the bad weather for me.

I hopped out of my car and headed towards the shelter's door. Someone opened the door for me, and I had to delicately pick past a man slumped in the corner, a bloody scrap of fabric pressed to his head. The paramedics were still gathering their supplies in the ambulance, but the injured gentleman was surrounded by other men, who were talking quietly to him as he waited for rescue.

A while later, I as I drove away to that next appointment, I started to wonder at myself. Had I been in human services so long that the sight of a man in distress, clearly injured, probably scared and stressed, was someone that I can just walk by, just being careful not to hit him with my tote bag?

I prefer to think of it in a more positive vein. Over thirty years of working in human services and nonprofits has taught me that yes, bad things happen to good people; sometimes very bad things. If that doesn't become part of your psyche, you don't last long. Part of my equation for this situation was: the rescue squad was on the way. The gentleman had the support and caring of his peers, and he was in a safe environment. My job is to get to know the folks in the street and the shelter, and help them to achieve long term safety, long term improvement in their lives. That was definitely not the moment to introduce myself and assess what strides he could make to prevent life threatening events like head wounds. It wasn't the time for him; it wasn't the time for me. Maybe it will never be the time for him; that's another acknowledgment a long term human service worker has to accept.

I walked around that man, and didn't stop, didn't slow down, and didn't even feel a lot of regret. But I went into the shelter and had two very positive and productive meetings with two others. I hope someday someone from Duffy or another agency can have a good meeting with the man I walked by on a cold, rainy fall day.


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.