This is the story of a patient I met during my first inspection round with Street Nurses.

Mr. L. lives on the street. He misses a leg that had to be amputated in his country of origin after wrong medical treatment. He has a strong, friendly personality and is well liked by people around him.

He has no papers. Whenever I visit him with a colleague, he gives us a broad smile and does not hold back when he tells us what bothers him and makes him unhappy. He trusts us, fully.

If today I feel like talking about him, it’s because the story of his life on the street touches me deeply. Why? Because he does so much his best to improve, to stop drinking and to move forward. But as soon as we reach a certain point, progress stops, and he falls back again.

Here’s the problem: he has no papers. And that blocks his way forward. I admire his courage when I see how, against all odds, he tries again and again.

© P-Y Jortay

Not long ago we were pleasantly surprised when we managed to get housing for another patient without papers (even though it was only transitory, for three years at most). The lucky person was a lady, without papers like Mr. L., but full of energy and a strong desire to move forward, to fit into society, to start a grocery shop, to follow training courses, to meet people and to keep learning. We accompanied her on the street for five whole years. What then blocked her progress and personal projects was, just like in Mr. L.’s case, the lack of papers. Because without them she could not get a roof over her head.

In my daily work, I frequently meet people without papers, mostly from Eastern Europe. Most often, they do undeclared construction or domestic work. These are all people who came to be part of our society, people who, just like us, dreamt of making progress and succeeding in life.

© P-Y Jortay

Their work’s pay is ridiculous, they have hardly any rights and they are exploited. As soon as their body breaks down, like a machine, their economic value vanishes, and they are dropped without anything. What remains is the right to get some medical support - but even that is complicated.

What people forget is that we need a roof over our heads for a feeling of safety, a dignified existence and for looking after our health.

As a street nurse, I see every day how people’s wings get clipped, how our society’s system blocks their progress. I see how drinking habits get worse in the daily struggle to survive on the street. And I witness how their health deteriorates. But above all, I see how they long for stability and safety in their lives. And I see the spark that lights up in their eyes whenever we manage to get them back on their feet.

When I see that, I tell myself: “Come on! Roll up your sleeves! We must help this person!” But at the same time, I hit that wall again. We’ll certainly manage to make progress with an undocumented person, but only up to a certain point.

Housing within their financial and administrative possibilities will remain totally out of reach. Because of that wall: lack of papers.

But that’s no reason for us to drop Mr. L. and all the others. We’ll persist - because of that spark in their eyes.

- Bianca, Street nurse.

Without you, there's no us

(*) We make every effort to respect the privacy of our patients and our professional secrecy. Nevertheless, we want to bear witness to how they have to survive and how we work together to reintegrate them. Therefore, the names of places and people are deliberately omitted or changed and real-life situations are placed in another context.