In last week’s bulletin we learned about the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP), the recipient of this year’s Collaborative Lenten Gift. We learned of its 37-year history including about its founders, its organization structure, its breadth in illnesses treated, and its mission to serve all aspects of the wellbeing of the homeless in Boston.
This week, let’s turn to the individual stories of those who live in the shadows and whom the BHCHP seeks to help and share in God’s grace. There are many paths to homelessness including mental health, discrimination, addiction, and violence. However, many of us are surprised that the faces of the homeless often hide that they were once in a home and only a crisis or breakdown away from turning their lives upside down. Through the work of the BHCHP, we learn that they are more than faces though, they have names.
Jeremiah, a WW II veteran, lived a quiet life in a rooming house in a single room with a cot, a bureau, and a shared bathroom down the hall. He paid his rent dutifully for 30 years, fed himself, and engaged in a nightly treat with a trip to the dog races before he went to work as a custodian at Harvard University or Jordan Marsh for the overnight shift. However, when his building was sold for redevelopment, he found himself homeless for the first time in his life at age 70. He spent four years in elder foster care before he spent his last $10,000 living for 6 months at the Copley Square Hotel. He by no means led a life of virtue in his solitude, having spent two occasions in his younger days in a mental hospital for attacking two women, but at the age of 75 he found himself homeless and suffering an internal vision of hell with severe paranoia.
Jackie moved back and forth between Boston and North Carolina before she found herself a single parent with two children, no affordable housing and despondent with her choices. Fortunately, she found the St. Mary’s Center shelter and met the BHCHP Family Team who treated her family like their family—with the human self-worth they deserved. They watched her children while she went to interviews and went back to school.
Jackie now works for the BHCHP as a medical assistant paying forward to those who come in despair and in need of a comforting welcome.
Walter was born with a low IQ and never learned to read, write, or tell time so his limited options for work included a life in custodial jobs and washing dishes. Shamed and abused for his stutter, he turned to alcohol as a crutch for confidence. The BHCHP team saw the human dignity in Walter, helped him walk the bureaucratic maze and complete his application to get SSI for his mental disability. With further assistance he was able to wean his dependence of alcohol and get his blood pressure under control with medication. Finally, with his SSI support, Walter was able to move into a room near his family in Springfield.
For more information on BHCHP and how you can help please visit our Collaborative Lenten Gift page.
Sources: Stories from the Shadows, Reflections of a Street Doctor by James J. O’Connell