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Notes From a Laneway
Monday: Morning, nine oclock, arrive at work to find a man in his mid sixties wandering naked and thought disordered down the corridor to our clinic. Not a resident of the hostel, a rough sleeper who I had never met before and who we have nil notes on. Disorientated to time place and person, just able to decipher his name, KKKevin. I called the police on 000 for immediate assistence due to the client's high degree of risk to himself.
I spend the next twenty minutes assisting the poor soul with shower and clothes. Nil police assistence, so I make my second call on 000. I think to myself, "oh well what the heck maybe St Vincents mental health team might have something to offer" so I called them too. Not to my surprise they were unavailable. They would, "try and make it later in the day if possible." 45 minutes had passed and still no response, meanwhile my friend was lost somewhere in the midst of his thought disordered mind, shouting at other homeless men in an incoherent way needing me to stay with him as close as possible to avoid others from assaulting him. Oh well, a third police call this time to Kings Cross and this time they turn up within ten, apologetic.
So I help another mentally ill man in his sixties into the back of a police paddie as other men in our laneway cower and sware at the intimidating presence of police on their turf.
Tuesday: I take a call from my colleague, homelessness nurse Angie at Foster House. Angie is distressed because she is having pressure from her management to "move on" men who have overstayed their welcome at the crisis accomodation there.
The latest case is a vietnamese man of 53 years with schizoaffective disorder, on Clopixol 600mg fortnightly, 2 grams of epilim daily and 200 Larg to help him off at night. Client B has been at Foster House for 7 years and because it is funded as crisis accomodation centre it is having pressure put on by govt depts to "move on the overstayers."
Unfortunately there is no where avail;able that can come close to affording this gentleman the high level of care that he requires so the only option for Angie, although it goes against her better judgement is to call me with view to transfering him to Mat Talbot. This is "shifting the Deckchairs" in the extreme, but understanding her predicament I accept the refferal and a couple of days later client B arrives just in time for his depot, woopee!
Wednesday: I am asked upstairs where my management ask me to assist them in tying up the loose ends with regards to paying a voluntaruy redundancy to one of my small team of RNs. Amazing to think that in this era of difficult recruitment and retainment of RNs a Mat Talbot gem with years of homelessness experience and invaluable relationships is going to get paid to leave our struggling operation because we simply do not have the funding to keep them.
Thursday: One of my personal care assistents is outside our building having a smoke when a mentally ill chronic alcoholic in his forties walks up and punches him in the side of the face in a completely unprovoked attack. We assist in every way possible but the victim is in serious shock and is sent home with view to a week off. The incident once again highlighting the dangerous environment/need for ongoing training and support we have down here.
Friday: I am told that during the week a homeless man died of an overdose outside and that the current street talk is about retribution for the role that his aquaintences played in the incident. On friday arvo am confronted with other incidents involving people who have been here longer than they should have had to have been and ended up on heavy drugs complicating their mental illness because of it...
During the week I am encouraged by a colleague who reminds me, "to focus on what we can do wrather than what we can't."
Throughout the week I interact many times in meaningful and rewarding ways often finding the most satisfaction in being able to bring a smile here or a laugh there, seeing an open wound improve or a client accept assistence. This is what keeps us going but it does not overcome the dire staits that the community of the mentally ill homeless of Sydney find themselves in.
I recently came across a quote by the Achbishop of Recife Brazil, Dom Helder Camara, who said: "When I feed the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist"
While we all find contentment in doing the little bits "we can," in this work we are also committed to advocacy, lobbying government for justice on behalf of our homeless friends.
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