We’ve accompanied Mr. N for several years now. Since he turned his back on street life, he’s been living in a very sober accommodation, barely decorated, which makes us think a bit of a prison cell. That’s because as a young man he was in prison for a while and that affects him still every day.
Mr. N wants to stop drinking. He’d be happy to do a cure, but at the same time, he doesn’t dare take that step. What’s the point of having left prison to be locked up somewhere else? And imagine he would be harassed there like he was by his former fellow prisoners? He keeps telling us: “That I don’t want to experience again; it broke me!”
But we don’t give up and return to the issue again and again. When we meet, we talk about the road he has travelled, about his fear of being locked up, and of other people. We discuss what it means for him to take care of himself.
Eventually, he agrees to visit a clinic surrounded by a parc, which meets his need to go outside and get some fresh air. But this time he doesn’t even want to leave the car and we don’t get any further than the parking area. The next time we manage to organise a meeting for him. But it wasn’t his day.
It doesn’t really come to a conversation with the person receiving him. But we keep talking to the clinic and we manage to get him a third appointment, with none other than the head of department. She tells him that his file is still pending and that he must be patient. Finally, after a few months we are told that this clinic will not take him in.
We are aware of having created a situation in which the patient has overcome his indecision, is ready to look after himself, but faces a closed door. It was just as frustrating for him as it was for us.
But then one day he tells us: “What I’m really dreaming of is a tasty hamburger at Quick’s!” We have a good laugh together, but then decide to take him there. “Thanks”, he says. “I really needed that, and, you know, it’s not too bad, I’m used to it. We can try again at another institution.”
In the end, all work was not in vain. He has been able to imagine a future he can work on at his own rhythm.
It’s striking how inaccessible health care institutions are for the people we accompany – and take no account of the background of their street life. The staff we’re dealing with have no idea what it took to even get our patients to meet.
But we also realize that we sometimes put a lot of pressure on ourselves and have high expectations, while some things can easily be arranged… with a portion of fast food.
● Sarah, nurse for Housing First
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(*) We do our utmost to respect the privacy of our patients and our professional secrecy. However, we want to testify to how they must survive and how we are working together to reintegrate them. As a result, the names of places and people are deliberately omitted or changed and real-life situations are placed in a different context. There is no direct link between the photos and the stories above.