Plymouth Street Ministry Journal--Friday, July 29, 2016
Sunny, 79 degrees F.
I arrived at the municipal parking lot at 5:42pm to find Barb, Brian, Jake, Larry, and Mike already handing out bags to visitors. Tonight we distributed bags with food, a cold water bottle, and a cold orange juice bottle. We also had a self-serve table with sweet rolls and a number of paperback novels.
One woman talked with Barb for quite a while--she has a meth addiction and has been sober for about 45 days. She described her cravings and told how she was trying to avoid triggers that cause cravings. She was excited that tomorrow she gets to visit her two-year-old son, who is in foster care.
Another woman stopped by who was very friendly. She said was laughing and said she was trying not to be angry today. Earlier in the day she had encountered people who belittled her for being homeless. She described them not with words, but by pushing her nose upward with her finger to indicate snobbery. She left where she was to avoid them and found a quiet corner of the library. She was doing an admirable job of not letting the snubs and insults get to her, but I imagine that over time all of those add up and hurt.
One of our regulars said he just had a run-in with the police. He was taking his medication on a park bench because he has nowhere else to take them. Police stopped him and said they had reports of some stolen medicine. He allowed the police to search all his meds until they were convinced that they were all legitimately his.
A young woman, maybe 18 or 20 years old, came up to us. She had just been released from the hospital, was homeless, and has no clothing other than what she was wearing. I didn't catch the whole story, but she has only been on the street for two days. Mike and Barb are going to meet with her tomorrow, get her some clothing, give her a tour of the town, and also give her some advice on how to stay safe.
In all we served about 34 people tonight. We packed up and left a little after 7pm.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal--Friday, July 22, 2016
It was a hot 93 degrees when I arrived at the parking lot at 5:40pm. We had seven people helping--in addition to me, Barb, Brian, Jake, Larry, Michelle, and Mike were all there.
We served around 35 people. In each bag of food distributed we included two cold bottles of water and a cold bottle of juice. If a person looked very dehydrated or asked for it, we made included even one more water bottle. In addition to the food bags, we also distributed pastries to anyone who wanted.
Most of the conversations I was a part of were brief. It was too hot for most people to stand around in the sun. One woman needed more clothing--she said she had spent a couple of days in jail and the organization she had left her possessions with had thrown them away. Barb took notes on her sizes and we will have more clothing for her on Tuesday. Two men needed clothing as well--one needed shoes and pants, the other pants and a ball cap. We recorded their names and needs and will try to have them filled on Tuesday as well.
Alisa from Altoona UMC dropped by and gave us bottled water, clothing and diapers. Thanks, Alisa!
I also listened to a man who was looking for a job in food service. He is applying at several places and has a lot of experience, so I'm optimistic. Another man was from Buffalo, New York and is trying to get back there. He said he had done manual labor for an agency but that they wouldn't pay him for his last two weeks of work. Every time he called he got a different excuse. Mike told him to bring all his documentation of work on Tuesday, and that he would look into getting him help.
Another man was extremely grateful for the water. He said he was on a heavy dose of antibiotics for an infection and looked tired and weak. We gave him extra water.
Just before we left--a little after 7--a man told us a wild tale. He said he was famous, was a professional athlete, and was a combat veteran. He also said that the CIA was after him and he didn't need to be homeless, he was just there to set a good example for all the other homeless people. We didn't quite know how to react to his story, but he wasn't at all threatening and was also grateful to receive water.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Because of the heat, we passed out extra water and juice this evening. Pastor Mike, Barb and Becky volunteered some extra hours to our friends and handed out 50+ bottles of water. This heat is scheduled to last a few more days, water is so important not just for those we serve but all of us. Try to stay cool and stay hydrated!
Karen -- Street Nurse
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal, July 19, 2016
We were out this evening in the beginning of the heat wave that is forecasted for us. I believe it was around 85 degrees this evening and sunny. As I was loading the van today with shorts and t-shirts, it occurred to me that in a few weeks we'll be getting the hoodies, sweatpants and jeans ready again. The saying "time flies" is often so true. Out in service this evening were Brent, Jake, Michelle, Becky, Brian, Pastor Mike, Sam and me.
Early in the evening we were sharing notes about the status of some of the people we serve. It was brought up that one woman, who had been housed in the early months of the year, had communicated with a mutual contact of ours that she had recently been the victim of domestic abuse. This news did not come entirely as a surprise. We did feel bad and have concerns for the woman as she is older, vulnerable and disabled with mobility issues. The good news is that the woman has left town to escape the situation, whether it be temporarily or permanently we do not know. The Street Ministry assisted her to the bus station at her request and helped to purchase a bus ticket for her. We did not know for certain at the time that she was in danger but are now relieved she was comfortable enough with us to ask for help. We hope for her continued safety.
Another woman that arrived was new to me, some of the other volunteers had met her previously. She parked her car in a handicapped stall and sat with the engine running for at least fifteen minutes before getting out. She walked over and she seemed steady on her feet but still had her hand on our big van for reassurance. Because of the heat, we asked every visitor how they were managing the temperatures. This woman shared that because of her health, she had to be in air conditioned environments. She wasn't immediately forthcoming but did eventually share that she has emphysema and end stage renal disease. Having worked in a dialysis unit previously, I asked her many questions to assess her situation and was relieved to hear that she believes she has housing starting next month. Having compromised kidney function requires a person to be diligent in their diet and fluid intake. This can be difficult living in a home and having a caregiver, I can't imagine the challenge of being homeless, alone and not having the control of your own cooking or attempting to maintain a fluid balance. She has dialysis three times weekly for four hours each. Depending on how she manages her sessions, the process can be tiring for an individual so she sleeps in her car in parks for short spurts, moves the vehicle and naps again. The woman says she runs her car most of each day which is costly. We suggested locations around the city for her to take advantage of air conditioning and stay safe.
When I first began volunteering, I had absolutely no idea of the amount of people who are homeless. There are many. Too many. I'm learning that many of those we serve suffer from physical or mental health challenges and the lines become blurred in regards to what happened first: illness and then homelessness? Or was it homelessness and then illness? Ultimately, it doesn't matter. Its our responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters. Thank you for being on this caring journey with us.
Karen -- Street nurse
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal--Friday, July 15, 2016
I arrived at a quarter to six--Larry, Barb, Becky, Brian, Brent, and Mike were already busy helping people and Michelle arrived a bit later. It was a nice evening--partly cloudy with a temperature in the upper 70s.
The first visitors I saw, a couple, brought news of a stabbing in Phoenix Park. One of them had seen blood being cleaned up in a restroom. Someone else said they knew the victim or was at least familiar with him. (Note: I've just read a news report that the victim was taken to the hospital and that his injuries were not life threatening.) Someone else mentioned that another man, well known to the homeless community, had recently been beaten up.
Another man arrived and had quite a story. I didn't hear all of it, but he was now staying in the shelter and was trying to sell his car. He had been living in his car in the parking lot of a department store that was open 24 hours, but could no longer afford the gas to drive anywhere. He had spent some of his daytime in Carson Park. The police questioned him about a tent found in the park with drug paraphernalia. He admitted that he was homeless but told the police (and us) that he had nothing to do with the group who had the tent. Nevertheless, he decided that it was a bad idea to stay there because he didn’t want to be associated with other homeless folks who were using drugs.
Good news: A woman stopped by and told us proudly that she has been sober for a month.
More good news: JF stopped by on a bicycle. I hadn’t seen with him for quite a while, so I spent a long time talking with him. He has been off the street for many months, now, and is now in the process of enrolling in CVTC!
A man stopped by and picked up a bag that we had with his name on it. He had stopped by on an earlier visit and had requested some clothing that we didn’t have on hand. We had recorded his name and needs and delivered the items to him tonight. He was extremely grateful.
Another man talked with Mike and was describing his efforts to find work. I only heard part of his story. I think he was applying to a temp agency and seemed to have significant marketable computer skills. I don’t think he has been on the street long and sounded like he was quite well educated. I never learned the rest of his story.
My final story was related to me by Becky. Barb and Becky talked with a woman for about 45 minutes tonight. She has been homeless for three weeks, and has already been sexually assaulted and had her phone and other possessions stolen. She has an alcohol problem and misses her son—who is in the care of his father. She said that her family has been very good to her and tried to get her help, but didn’t know how to help her anymore. Tonight was to be her first night in the shelter—she had been sleeping under bridges and in abandoned buildings. Unfortunately, we suspected that she had been drinking tonight, and might not pass the shelter’s breathalyzer test. Becky told me the story as the shelter was opening, and shortly thereafter we saw her walking away, so we assume she was not allowed in.
To all of our visitors we offered a bag with food, a water bottle (an extra water bottle if they requested one or if we thought they needed it), and a can of juice. We started the evening with 50 cans of juice and finished with four, so I think we served at least 46 people tonight. We also had a table with donated bakery goods, and allowed people to take what they wanted. Tonight had it all—good news, bad news, heartbreaking news, and many quiet people just trying to get through another day.
Please pray for, and care for, the poor.
Plymouth Street Ministry Journal, July 12, 2016
It was a warm but dry evening on the street tonight. Pastor Mike, Brent, Sam, Brian and I were available for our street friends. We served about 30 and gave out the usual bags containing food, water and juice. Several t-shirts and shorts were given and requests were taken for items not immediately available. I'm writing in particular about two women that we worked with tonight.
We visited with many of our usual friends and met new people, as well. One newcomer is a woman from Colorado, who reports that while traveling, her fiance was arrested and brought to a local county jail. She was very worried about his status and wondered if she would be able to visit him. Being in a new city without having her own resources and without her traveling partner created a lot of anxiety for her. We were able to obtain the information she wanted and the relief she had just knowing he was okay and that she would be able to visit him was visible. She became more animated, talkative and hopeful that things would work out for them both. Her need was small but important. She has not been in this situation before so we talked to her about her safety, resources in the community and offered our support.
A young woman that we've known for awhile appeared shortly before we left. This woman holds a special place in my heart for it was she that really piqued my interest in the street ministry nearly two years ago. She is currently about 28 years old and has a history of mental illness that is often unstable. My first memory of her is the lack of eye contact she had and the struggle I had in holding a conversation with her. That particular day, a local church hosted a chili feed and she enjoyed the meal. While sitting next to her on the cold pavement in the parking lot, she gave me the opportunity to look through an album that she that held many pieces of artwork she'd created. I was mesmerized by a tree that she'd drawn: the limbs and branches were twisted and vine-like without much order. The colors were dull yet every line was made purposefully and each leaf was drawn crisply and clearly. She had other interesting pieces of work, as well. Many pieces seemed rather abstract to me and she shared that she draws and paints what she sees as a way to deal with her mental illness.
The woman came and visited a few times and then went to another community, I hadn't seen her since. Pastor Mike had shared a couple of months ago that she was back in town but until tonight, I hadn't had the opportunity to see her. I was very excited to see her approach us. My joy quickly shifted to concern when we spoke with her. The woman seemed distant, she would start answering a question and her alertness would fade and she'd become silent for 30-45 seconds at a time, almost like she stepped out of the reality we shared. Sometimes we were able to redirect her, other times we would have to wait for her to re-focus and we would restate our question or comment. She looked simultaneously anxious yet exhausted, appeared to have been neglectful with her hygiene -- very different than what I'd expected. After spending a few minutes with her, we felt that an evaluation at a local hospital would be appropriate. The woman was willing and we left the parking lot around 7pm and headed to the ER. While she was ultimately discharged, we were with her until nearly 11pm. Pastor Mike transported her back to the shelter, we'd notified the shelter staff of a potential delay in her getting there and they'd held a bed open specifically for her. I can only wonder what tomorrow will bring and I pray for her safety.
Our experiences tonight are a reminder to us all how vulnerable the people we serve are, especially the women. The woman from Colorado knows no one and is at the mercy of her own instincts of whether to trust someone or not. The other woman that we have a history with is vulnerable in every manner. This is a way of life for many of the people we serve and for me, personally, it is difficult to watch. We help who we can and hope and pray for the others.
As always, thank you for your interest and support. Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. You are appreciated!
Karen, Street Nurse