If you live or work in the City of Lowell, have come to Lowell to attend an event or visit relatives or friends, you may have noticed a makeshift “camp” along the banks of the Merrimack River. Camps that have been built with the refuse of the neighborhoods that surround them. This is survival.
They are veterans, young, middle aged, elderly men and women. Their individual stories are unique, their current circumstance unites them, all with the same issue. Homelessness.
Yesterday (photo above), Centralville resident, Paul Belley invited myself, along with Kim Scott, Tom Michaels, Roland Cartier and Tori Germann to make the trek down to the camp at Beaver Brook. There we were greeted by 9 men and women who call that area their home for lack of housing.
A young woman who has bone cancer. Most mornings she has a great deal of difficulty getting out of her tent due to the illness that is slowly – painfully taking her life. This illness currently goes untreated as she has lost her insurance due to lack of an address, lack of connection with homeless service providers, a healthcare provider and the wherewithall to have the insurance reinstated. In addition, she reported that she had been wearing the same pants for the past several days because they stuck to her leg after sustaining a burn, which goes untreated. By virtue of her disease, she has severe mobility issues. Ultimately, if she is not re-housed in short order, she will die much sooner and her last breath - taken in a cold, snowy tent along the banks of the Merrimack River.
No need to remind you, dear reader, that we experienced significant snowfall last evening and heading into a cold weather stretch. Admittedly, this is a photo of the wooded area in the back of my home this morning. The terrain along the banks of the Merrimack is rather treacherous for the average person, never mind someone with such significant medical and mobility issues.
I should end this post here…but I can’t
The young lady’s cousin (18 years old), is her caretaker and does the best he can for her given the constraints of their living situation. He is 18 years old with several job prospects but lacks the identification necessary to obtain a job. The cost of an ID? $25. Had he the identification, he is able to gain employment and obtain an apartment – he and his cousin (the young lady decribed above) would not be living as they are and she would be receiving the proper care she requires.
The third gentleman, also, with several job prospects, lacks the $25 to obtain identification so he may work in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Once again, had he an ID, he would be able to obtain employment, an apartment and not live in a tent.
Not knowing where to turn, having been told by other providers that there are no funds for Identification fees, they go without, continue to be homeless and live in tents along the Merrimack River
Often times the most simple interventions can lead to self sufficiency:
1. ) $25 to obtain a MA - ID, which will enable many of our men and women to obtain a job.
2.) Start up (first/last) costs for a 1 & 2 bedroom apartments with a range of $1400-$1,800
3.) Immediate reconnection to Health Insurance and a new provider for the young lady so that she may engage in treatment. Home health care put into place if necessary.
Let me stress, these are easy fixes. All the tools are there, we can bring them together. It is heartbreaking that these men and women have fallen through the cracks in our systems. Remember, these men and women are someone’s daughter, son, mother, father or neighbor. This experience was a reawakening of sorts, as my job has become more administrative in recent years. I have found over time that very little phases me when it comes to issues in the homeless world. This experience just knocked the breath right out of me and elicited such a range of emotions. I just had to share this experience and raise awareness. I do know that I am completely humbled by this experience and plan on doubling down efforts to remedy this challenge that exists within our community.
Here’s the policy end….
Chronically homeless people have unique health vulnerabilities. This subset of people suffers from extraordinarily complex medical, mental, and addiction disabilities that are virtually impossible to manage in the setting of homelessness. With an extreme level of disability, these individuals are among the highest-end utilizers of our state’s health care systems.
Collected data from clinicians at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program has catalogued some of the medical needs and costs associated with living unsheltered on the streets chronically. A cohort of 119 street dwellers accounted for an astounding 18,384 emergency room visits and 871 medical hospitalizations over a five year period. The average annual health care cost for individuals living on the street was $28,436, compared to $6,056 for individuals in the cohort who obtained housing.
A growing body of evidence in the mental and public health literature shows dramatic improvement in health outcomes, residential stability, and cost to society when homeless people receive supportive medical and case management services while living in permanent, affordable housing units. (Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance)
National data, through a service model title Housing First, has shown that by re-housing homeless individuals, reduces the cost of healthcare for homeless individuals up to 70%. Here is a link to MHSA’s Home & Healthy for Good 2011 Report. This report is focused on the data gleaned from homeless individuals in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Here is another great study done in New Jersey, click here. And another in Minnesota, click here. Also, another prime example as to the cost of healthcare for homeless individuals, the legendary Million Dollar Murray.
Here’s what you can do…..
1. Donate $5, $10, $25, $26 (26 Acts of Kindness), $100 or any amount you see fit. Funds to re-house homeless individuals in the City of Lowell are scarce or rather - non existent.
2. Donate goods for those who are living outside. Great items to consider – hats, gloves, mittens, long underwear, underwear, socks, winter boots, blankets, towels, toiletries, feminine products (for the ladies), $5 gift cards to Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds or any other local food establishment.
3. If you are a landlord or know someone who is a landlord, let us know the availability of units so that we may collect the resources necessary to re-house this very vulnerable population.
Tax deductible donations may be made payable to “CTI-INDRH” and mailed to Community Teamwork, Inc. 17 Kirk St. Lowell, MA 01852. In kind (goods contributions) may be left at the CTI Resource Center at 17 Kirk St. Lowell.
100% of the funds and in kind donations generated will go directly to the men and women living outside and their subsequent re-housing efforts in the City of Lowell. Questions about what you can do? Call Kristin (978) 654-5617 or email email@example.com