(This article first appeared in the January 2012 newsletter.)
A Chance to Get Well, A Chance To Change
by Mary Fluke, DVM, Samaritan House Board Member
Samaritan House provides recuperative care to homeless people after discharge from a hospital stay. But how does it work? Who gets to come here? How long do they stay? What happens when they leave? How is it that 80% of the guests do not return to the streets or the shelter?
According to Executive Director Brad Goforth, the process starts with a referral from a social worker at an area hospital or other medical care provider. Brad receives a screening form explaining the nature of the person’s illness or injury, current condition, and what kind of follow up care is needed. Brad does a background check to confirm that the person has no history of violent or sexual criminal behavior (for the protection of other guests, staff and volunteers). Samaritan House is not a medical care facility so guests cannot be admitted who require oxygen, IV medication, can’t manage their own personal care without help, or have mental disease which is not well controlled. The potential guest is given a list of house rules to read and sign. If everything is in place, Brad sets up a time and picks the person up at the hospital.
When a guest arrives at Samaritan House, the first thing is to get the person set up in a bedroom, comfortable and safe. Brad takes the opportunity to review the rules, make sure the guest has what he or she needs, and also lets the person know that we are here to help not only with the physical care of a warm place to sleep and good food, but also to provide a chance for the person to change how he or she has been living.
There are many resources available to poor and homeless people in our community, everything from food stamps, Medicaid, and Social Security disability, to counseling, housing assistance, and treatment programs. For a homeless person, the majority of each day is spent figuring out how to survive, to figure out where to get a meal, how to get where that meal is, and how to get back to a place to sleep. For a person who doesn’t have bus fare, this means a lot of walking. Getting to the Department of Social Services, or the Social Security Administration Office means walking miles. The resources may be there, but transportation is a big barrier.
At Samaritan House, the person doesn’t have to worry about food and shelter, so in that first interaction, Brad can plant the idea that this is a chance to change. We can provide the contacts, the information, the telephone, the computer, as well as a ride, not just to doctor’s appointments but also to DSS, or Social Security, or the DMV (for an ID). The person provides the motivation. In fact, the opportunity to take back charge of one’s own life may be as important as the physical recuperation.
Brad checks with each guest every day to see how he or she is feeling with regard to recuperation from illness. Some of our guests are very sick and may develop infections or other complications which require a return to the hospital. Some folks stay as few as 10 days, others several weeks or longer. For every guest, no matter how long the stay, the focus eventually changes from the immediate concern for physical health and recuperation, to what happens when the person leaves. Brad says, “I can tell in the first 2 or 3 days whether the person is likely to make progress and improve his life. The ones who just sit and watch TV and don’t make the effort are usually back on the streets. The ones on the phones and computer, who ask to be taken to places to get resources, are the ones who will make it.”
The length of time that each person stays is dictated by his or her physical progress. Once the person is well enough, a release date is set and Brad will take the person wherever he or she wants to go here in Charlotte. For 80% of our guests, this means permanent housing, reconnection with family or friends, or local treatment and rehabilitation programs. For the remaining 20%, it means return to the streets or the shelter.
According to Brad Goforth, “By providing information and transportation, we provide the guests the chance to get things done they could not normally manage, and that creates the opportunity to make life better. The food and the bed helps make them well but the rest is up to them.”
Resources that our guests use:
- Dept. of Social Service—food stamps, Medicaid, counseling, low cost housing
- Social Security Administration—disability and Social Security benefits
- Dept. of Motor Vehicles—photo IDs
- Urban Ministries—counseling, mail
- Crisis Assistance Ministry—clothing, short term financial assistance for transition to housing
- Treatment programs such as Rebound (Charlotte Rescue Mission), Hope Haven (Salvation Army)
- Housing assistance—Hoskins Park Ministries, Booth Gardens (Salvation Army—housing for elderly and disabled folks), Charlotte Housing Authority
- Local churches