by Wendy Hamilton, advocate for the homeless
It’s Saturday morning, and I’m sitting on my couch reading EVICTED by Matthew Desmond. An hour ago I had bought DD coffee at the train station and watched at least a dozen homeless men and women trying to sleep upright on the benches. They are not allowed to recline or unfold. I recognize some of them. The scene is heartbreaking.
Yesterday a skinny homeless teenager wearing only a cotton shirt and a dirty blanket walked through the station. I offered him money, but he refused.
Every day I meet new faces on the street and greet old ones. I pass out small amounts of money to a few knowing that at best it will buy some time in a warm place. I fantasize organizing a small group of these folks to sit with me every day in the mayor’s office (large waiting room) to shame the city into doing something. There are large empty buildings with heat including City Hall right in the center of New Haven.
The “shelters” are inadequate and awful, away from the city center. Yale Corporation and the city and the city hospital exclude the homeless and even though there are charities and outlets for food and clothing, the most important tool for survival, housing, is denied. We all lose our humanity as a result.
New Year’s Day — temp is 14F — I walk to the train station for coffee at 8 a.m. Amongst the homeless trying to rest is an elderly white man, scabs on his face, babbling and grimacing, wearing only a thin jacket and PAPER pants, no hat. I ask one of the station police to call an ambulance telling him I am a nurse, and he tells me one just dropped this man off. “He was discharged.” We looked at each other.
I then walked the mile to YNHH ER off York St. It was 9 a.m. and holiday-quiet. Two nurses stood by the reception desk, and I asked for the name of the head doctor of the ER. One of these women wore a vest that said Jessica, Emergency. She started to write down the useless number for “patient relations.” I said I wanted a name so I could write a letter of complaint. She refused and called the two hospital guards (private police) who grabbed me under the armpits and threw me out the front door. Two women patients near the entrance saw this. Luckily I landed on my feet. One cop, C. Larson, told me to get off hospital property.
Later that day I wrote a letter to Dr. Gail D’Onofrio, head medical doctor for the ER at YNHH. No reply so far.
I also found out via the internet that a Baltimore psycho-therapist named Imamu Baraka had a similar experience in his city. Homeless people are denied medical care and hospital admission. I am a witness.
Bad news: In January, at a community board meeting, I learned “MC,” Mark Cochran, had died before the holidays. You can read his story in the New Haven Independent at http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/lead_march_cochran. He was 55, a beer drinker and a chain smoker, small of stature, friendly, and a lifelong local. He succumbed to 20 years of homelessness, slogging through heat and cold until it killed him along with his habits.
Yale New Haven Hospital refused to admit him for more than two days. YNHH might have given him more time literally and figuratively. I told them he needed a long stay on a locked down detox ward before he could get housing of any kind. I did mention a heart problem and possible skin disease. I was shown the door. Two days later he was back on Chapel Street.
He was also failed by the local housing system which insists on rules, regulations, and endless delays before subsidized housing is granted or made available. It is slow torture. Even Kafka would be shocked by its cruel complexity.
Good news: I met a young homeless man who is going to Gateway Nursing School, and I offered to help. And Bea C. who is head of SWAN (Sex Workers Allies Network) has been traveling to other cities, networking, and has expanded that group, I found out. Most New Haven sex workers are homeless people.