On Thursday afternoon, I went by to see friends on the block, at Lee and Eugene, and to let them know about dinner at the HIVE. One of my friends asked for help for his friend, who had just gotten out of the hospital. He’d had major surgery, and then been discharged back to the street, to the bridge where he’s lived for years. He has no job and no income, and was trying to find a way to get his medication, including the antibiotic to keep him from getting a post-surgical infection.
I called the church, but our congregational nurse is on vacation. I emailed a contact at HealthServe, hoping he’d been there, but haven’t heard back yet. I’m not even sure if they can tell me, because of privacy laws. I’m hoping they were able to help him get his meds. I can’t imagine sleeping under a bridge after having major surgery.
Later, I went on over to the HIVE and cooked dinner with the Food Not Bombs folks. As I was leaving to go meet friends at Ganache, I got a call from one of the downtown cops, who wanted to know if we had any food left. He was with a hungry homeless man who’d just been released from jail, and he wanted to know if I could bring him something to eat. So Tim filled a grocery bag with containers of rice, gumbo, bread and fruit, and added utensils, napkins and bottled water. I went downtown and met them, and gave the man the bag of food. He was so thankful to receive it. I talked to him about where to go to get some other things that he needed, and then I went on to meet my friends.
Later in the evening, the downtown cops encountered another homeless man, who’d just been discharged from the hospital. He was from out of town and had no money and nowhere to go. So I tried to help them find a place for him to sleep. First, I called Greensboro Urban Ministry and explained the situation. But all their beds were full. Then I called the Salvation Army. No bed for him there, either. There are no other emergency shelter options for homeless men in Greensboro.
I talked to him for a little while and found out that he’d come to Greensboro from out of state, looking for work. And I told him, quite honestly, that he’d probably picked the wrong place to look. The lack of work has been a central topic of discussion for a while lately among my homeless friends, and we’d been talking about it earlier in the day, on the block and at the HIVE. Jobs — even temp work — are few and far between. The man said he’d probably try to go back where he came from.
I told him that there were no shelter beds available and that I didn’t have any other options for him to sleep inside, but I knew of a place he could sleep outside that would be comparatively safe. It was a ways away from where we were, so a patrol officer came by to give him a ride, and we asked him to drive by the places that serve breakfast and lunch, which were on the way, so that the man would know where he could eat in the morning. He asked for a blanket, and I didn’t have one. I carry them in my truck once it starts getting cold at night, and I hadn’t realized that the chilly nights are already here. I told him I could get him one tomorrow, knowing as I said it, how inadequate that was. He said he hoped to be gone by tomorrow. And then he got in the police car and they pulled away.
One of the remaining officers looked at me and said, “I feel like we just failed him. As a city, that we failed him.” Yeah, me too.
Hospitals discharge people to the street. Jails discharge people to the street. Part of our ten year plan to end homelessness is supposed to include discharge planning to prevent people from being sent from a hospital or jail to the street. But if the shelters are full and there’s no other housing, then what do you do? Hospitals and jails are not housing providers. Shelters only have so many beds. Cops shouldn’t have to be social workers. I don’t know what the answer is. I just know that I agree with my cop friend. I feel like we failed that guy. And we failed the guy who had surgery and got sent back under a bridge without his medicine. And there are so many more like them…