• Erica Smith

In Sickness and In Shelter

Remember the last time you were really sick? One minute you were feeling a little funny; 15 minutes later you’re collapsed in a chair wondering how you managed to be hit by a truck in your own living room. For the next 72 hours you don’t get out of that chair, with the exception of the hours you spend on the bathroom floor waiting for the next round of grenades to go off in your gut – with explosions that catapult the worst kind of shrapnel everywhere. The muscle aches, the chills, the soaked pajamas from fever sweat. And the general inability to do anything but pray to either get better or die, whichever is willing to come first.

Now imagine being that sick in a homeless shelter bunk room with 49 other people. Or having to walk a half a mile to find a warm place to sit, and it’s a busy lobby filled with other people where you cannot lie down and may not be allowed to sleep. Or relying on a public bathroom and hoping it’s open when you need it; and of course there’s a line of people who are using it before and after you.

Last week the “bug that’s been going around” hit Helping Hands, and about 25 percent of the people here had the whole gamut of symptoms. It tends to happen every winter around this time. We disinfect, we have huge bottles of hand sanitizer, we encourage people to get the flu shot (with onsite clinics), and we offer face masks. Yet people still get sick. It’s what human beings do.

I was one of them who was sick last week, and as dramatic as I am about the horrors of the flu, I felt equally as grateful that I had a home to be sick in.

I had a quiet, comfortable space to rest. I could control the temperature of my bedroom. I could stay in bed wearing pajamas all day. I could take a shower whenever I wanted. When I finally felt like eating, I could choose what my body would take. And, most importantly, I had the privacy of my home where I was away from everyone, and everyone was away from me.

In this instance, my housing was my health care.

Because I had a space conducive to rest and healing, with the resources I needed, within about five days I was much better. For people who are homeless, the flu – or even a cold or sinus infection – is a much different experience. They tend to get sicker and stay sick longer, which often require visits to the doctor or even emergency room. Most importantly, they are people in pain who are unable to avoid spreading germs because they can’t “stay home.” It’s a bad situation for them, and a bad situation for everyone else.

On a good day homelessness is no picnic. On a sick day, it’s more misery than most of us can imagine. It’s time to get serious about providing the basic resources people need to avoid and rapidly-resolve homelessness.

Housing is the answer to homelessness – in sickness and in health.

131 views0 comments