A few months ago, I asked Street Nurses to confront me with the reality of their street work. As a volunteer, I know about it indirectly, especially through the articles “Slice of life”. Impressive, even moving. Definitely. But I realized that the experience in the field could be much more poignant. 

As a gentle introduction, the housing team took me along to visit Mr. M., who lived in a retirement home. The gentleman we met there was quite relaxed and, apart from administrative support, did no longer seem in need of a moral boost. On the contrary, he was the one who did all the talking, with the aim, he said, to make us laugh.

Travailleuse parle à un patient

There was nothing similarly amusing during a second visit to a retirement home, this time to see Mrs. X. Handicapped, fragile, sad, she is hardly audible when answering the questions of the team. Health, social contacts, relations with the retirement home’s management: “rien ne va plus”. Things are so much out of kilter that she risks being out on the street again soon. Even the prospect of a home of her own does no longer seem to brighten her up. The team is working full out to make that happen but it takes time to overcome all sorts of administrative and procedural obstacles – and the lack of homes.

Most of the time, Mrs. X. withdraws behind a wall of silence, and even hides under a blanket. I wouldn’t have a clue what to do, but the team does not give up. Cautiously, kindly, they relaunch the conversation, again and again, patiently drilling little holes in the wall. And, slowly, Mrs. X. opens up, and starts talking about her daily worries. Each time, the team tries to give them a positive, constructive twist – and then take her out of her room for a little walk. A cup of coffee, a coke, on a terrace in the neigbourhood. Some exercise, fresh air, sun. That must do some good.Patiently, the team continues its work to lift the dark clouds, to stop the tears, to give courage. As long as it takes: two solid hours until her face lights up and we see her smile. “Accompaniment”: so much more than a word.

Professional skill and patience? Sympathy, deep human empathy? Love? It’s all that. I delete all question marks. What I’ve seen is love in action.

- Klaus, volunteer, most impressed by the work of Amel and Yasmina.


*) 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.