What Does Bone Cancer, $25 ID’s and Homeless Re-Housing Have in Common?

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.

snow photo

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 kross@comteam.org


13 thoughts on “What Does Bone Cancer, $25 ID’s and Homeless Re-Housing Have in Common?

  1. This story is an awakening to many of us….I hope everyone who reads this can pay it forward and do something…even the smallest donation can mean a lot to those who are less fortunate than we are…..

  2. Thank you Margo AND krosssitcawich
    1) The “3 solutions” DO seem pretty simple as you stated. What’s preventing enactment?
    2) I very much appreciate your policy ideas and the data backing it up & will utilize in my own advocacy efforts.

    • In short, we can’t act if we are not aware. Now that we are aware, we can act. We have a obligation to act. Data is king and very powerful. To re-house an individual or family is far less expensive than paying for shelter services and has mind boggling impact on reducing the cost of medical care, which is a burden that tax payers bear. It is a massive paradigm shift in how we look at the cost of homelessness and how we look at homeless service delivery/rehousing. Million Dollar Murray is great example of a life that was spent living homeless, on the streets.

      • Policy Advocacy is where it’s at, public education is essential. These 2 are like ‘old school’ personal work (transformation from the inside to add more to U & then therefore – the community) VS/AND community organizing (developing capacity in your neighborhood/neighbors). We can’t afford to do one or the other anymore (monk/religiously devout /vs/ politician/scientist who is a true ‘servant leader’ to their constituency). There needs to be a great deal of change in the current American way and it’s economic system to address the class/caste system which so heavily impacts this issue. We need to both visit & offer what we can to our neighbors (as Margo has) and work on the systemic level (as Kristin does) in a sustained way (2 or three generations some estimate)…
        Thank you for the post and allowing comment! Happy New Year, may it bring change for the benefit of ALL!

      • thank you Chrlsfl, for your comments. The policy discussion is crucial to all of this as the policies underpin the manner in which the services are delivered.

  3. Thank you for all your thought full comments on this important issue. I have also learned that there is abuse of the Shelter with illegal immigrants taking beds away from those in need.. Contractors that hire illegals will stay at the shelter where they get 3 square meals a day and and bed and go to work and send there pay home and take up beds that are are needed.

    • Paul, while that anecdote is seemingly problematic and certainly merits a look, I don’t beleive that is where our focus should lie. Sheltering models as they exist currently are being turned upside down. By this, I mean that the program of emergency sheltering is changing to a Housing First model. The Housing First model seeks to house a homeless individual and then provide supportive services in a decentralized setting. Current year round capacity at LTLC is 90 beds with 40 additional beds added in the winter. A new model would reduce the 90 beds to say (for the sake of discussion) 30 beds with an emphasis on housing first thus reducing the shelter footprint .

  4. Thank you Krisin..and I like the Housing First model very much as I toured LTLC when that program was first starting up. What I don’t like is the abuse of the system which is wide spread from shelters to EBT cards.

  5. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into the lives of those living in these campsites we all see. I am curious, however, whether the remedies to their plight are as much of a “magic bullet” as you claim they are. For example, if we were get an update on the disposition of the 3 homeless people you profiled here, are they currently housed? That is assuming the six of you that visited their camp pooled together and gave the two men $25 a piece for IDs. Also, why doesn’t the shelter grant preference for people with serious health issues such as this young woman?

    • Thank you for your comment Ron. Make no mistake, there is no magic bullet. It’s easy enough to expend dollars to re-house. It’s another story entirely to keep them housed. All of these individuals require sound case management, which they have in place. Case management is being provided by a licensed clinician whose primary responsibility is stabilize and keep their client housed. Unfortunately, the shelters don’t always prioritize health risk as a criteria for admittance.

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