One aspect of my work that I find really hard to cope with are the deaths. When one of our patients leaves us, we must close their file and continue with the other patients. That’s a difficult phase - but that’s how it is in practical reality. How to process the resulting frustrations and questions is not something you learn at school.

© Pierre Lecrenier

Thankfully, colleagues support us a lot. So does the “Collectif des Morts de la Rue”, (Collective Street Deaths) for the organisation of the funerals.

At the funeral of patient, a few months ago, I was impressed by the number of people present. I expected to be alone with the volunteer who accompanied her with a visit each week. In reality, some twenty family members had come to accompany her to her final resting place.

I then wondered whether my presence was at all justified.

To my patients, I would like to say: “It’s true that I am only a social worker who accompanies you part of the way, but for me you are not just homeless people I help in all sorts of procedures. You are human beings who are part of my daily life. And when you suddenly disappear, it’s always a big shock. In the course of our contacts, we establish a bond. Whether it’s complicated or not doesn’t matter, you always have a place in my heart.”

How must I handle these emotions?

I think that the questions that never get an answer, are the hardest to digest. “If you had lived in different circumstances, would you still be alive? If administrations had opened their doors more readily, would you still be alive? If access to care and institutions had been less complicated and exhausting, would you still be alive? If your supporting network hadn’t unraveled, would you still be alive? If someone had taken the time to listen to you, to show you the way, to accompany you, to contact you earlier… would you still be alive? Etc.”

From now on, I’ll take each phone call with the slight apprehension that it comes with bad news. Death will remain present in my work - and will keep throwing me back and forth between acceptance and indignation. 

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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.