Last Wednesday night, my friend Deb and I went to the ER at Wesley Long with a Community Dinner guest. He was having DTs really bad and he wanted help. He told us that he wouldn’t make it through another winter on the street. We hoped to get him into a detox and then into a residential rehab. He was ready and willing. But he kept telling us that it wouldn’t work — that every time he’d tried to get sober, they’d detox him for a couple of days and then put him back out on the street without sending him to a rehab program. He said, “To them, I’m just a poor, homeless drunk.” We assured him that wouldn’t happen this time. (But apparently, we were wrong.)
Late Wednesday night, we were told that the State was out of money to do detox, so they couldn’t send him to a detox facility. They did agree to admit him to Wesley Long, and our congregational nurse case manager from Grace followed up the next morning. A Wesley Long social worker looked into rehab options and so did Grace’s nurse case manager. I had planned to call our nurse this afternoon to find out where our friend was going to rehab this week. But before I could do that, I got a frantic phone call from him as I was on my way to church this morning. The social worker hadn’t found a rehab spot for him yet. So he was being discharged. With no place to go.
Today is Sunday. The offices of rehab facilities, transitional housing programs and homeless shelters are closed. Case managers, outreach workers and volunteers have the day off. And on a Sunday morning, many of us are at church. And yet, that’s the time when Wesley Long Hospital decided to discharge a homeless alcoholic (with other medical problems) — just four days clean — with no discharge plan and no place to go.
We recently presented the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in Guilford County. We talked about the need for substance abuse treatment. We talked about the importance of discharge planning and zero tolerance for discharging homeless people to the street. I served on a committee with a Moses Cone vice president. (Wesley Long is owned by Moses Cone.) We know that we need more substance abuse treatment options. But we don’t have them. We know that we’re not supposed to discharge homeless people to the street. But we keep doing it anyway.
Before he left the hospital, I called and questioned why our friend was being discharged without a plan — to the street. One nurse was sympathetic but unable to help. Another was hostile and defensive. I got nowhere. I called our friend back, feeling frustrated and hopeless that he was running out of time and I couldn’t do anything. And he comforted me. “It’s a losing battle at this point,” he said, in a voice that sounded so used to losing that it made me want to weep and scream and rage and fight against all the injustices done to this man from his tragic childhood until now, and against all the injustices done to our homeless friends who walk wounded and scarred in a world that ignores them or blames them or just doesn’t care.
When I got out of church a couple of hours later, our friend was standing in the exact same spot in the parking lot where an ambulance had picked him up four days earlier. Wesley Long had graciously provided him with a taxi voucher after unceremoniously discharging him, and he’d returned to us because he had nowhere else to go.
Once again, he’d asked for help. Once again, he’d had a few days of detox and then been kicked out, back to the street, with no rehab, no real help. But he didn’t seem surprised or upset. Because he never really thought it would go any other way. After all, to them, he was just a “poor, homeless drunk.”
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God, I know that you make a way where’s there no way. I’ve seen You do it before, so many times. I’m sick and tired of trusting man’s broken systems. Heal Your people. Comfort the wounded. Save the lost. Show me how to be Your hands and feet. Forgive me when I fail. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…”
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From the Guilford County Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness:
Objective: Provide prevention and supportive services to prevent persons from becoming chronically homeless and to enable those who are chronically homeless to move to and remain in a stable housing situation and maximize their self-sufficiency.
Identified need: Need for stronger prevention at discharge
Strategy: Ensure that every person being discharged from jail, hospitals, mental health care, or foster care has a discharge plan that leads to stable housing and supports a community policy of â€œzero toleranceâ€ for discharge to homelessness.
Action Step: Appoint a team of key agencies to serve as a Discharge Planning Task Force.
Benchmark: Discharge Planning Task Force is appointed by first quarter 2008.
So how’s that plan coming, y’all? I haven’t heard another word. I guess I’ll believe it when I see it. And when Wesley Long and Cone stop discharging homeless people to the parking lot of my church. Because this is not the first time that’s happened. And I’m afraid it won’t be the last.