love when she was calm and would say that she knew how much we cared.... her love for a good, dirty joke and the belly laugh that would accompany it... her voice on the phone when she would call to check in. As one of our staff Jeanne put it, "I'll be damned if we all aren't better off for knowing Sandy", and it's so true.
Sandy began staying with us on December 23rd, 2014. As one of our longest term guests, we have certainly seen her through a lot. Over the time we've been working with Sandy she's been housed twice and returned to us, struggled through major medical issues and infections that have resulted in significant hospitalizations, had all of her belongings stolen multiple times, been dropped by service providers and continued to struggle to find stability in a world that does not know how to hold her in all her light, love and complication. Most recently, Sandy had been staying in a local hotel trying to get her massive leg wound to heal after she was discharged from the hospital. Once, when her leg was really bad, the ER told her care advocate from Amahoro House, Angela, that she wouldn't be admitted to the hospital because she was homeless. Another time Sandy was (mistakenly) told her leg was going to get amputated when she was all alone in the hospital. These instances highlight the invisible battles that people experiencing homelessness are engaged in at every turn. Medical providers, first responders, law enforcement, social workers, case managers and other providers struggle deeply to meet people where they are at in all their complexities. Provider willingness to live up to their professional charge to care for every person equally, does not always extend to our guests. However, between Sadie, our amazing partners the Amahoro House team, Melinda and Jerry the hotel caretakers, and a few dedicated friends from her street family, she was supported nearly everyday with calls, food, appointment coordination, transportation, wound care and emotional support.
Like I mentioned earlier, this never gets easier. Whenever we lose someone, we find ourselves experiencing an all at once shocking heartbreak, and a profoundly familiar grief. We don't know a lot about Sandy's family and when the coroner was bringing her out on the stretcher it was our team who was there. We hope that they find her family, but we may never know that outcome. We are the kind of family that the structured world doesn't know how to categorize. Sandy is the 7th shelter guest who passed away since we opened our doors. When we talk about the issue of homelessness -- so politicized and always seemingly up for debate -- as a life or death matter, it's because it truly is. Many of you may recognize Sandy. This was her home... her community. She frequented the Reef, the library, parks, the senior center and other downtown spots. When we talk about addressing homelessness as life and death it's not abstract for us. It's people we love deeply. We know their favorite ice cream flavor and what movies they love. We know just where they keep their teeth/socks/purse/umbrella/family keepsakes/etc., we know what kinds of shoes make their feet sore and what makes them laugh. We know their deep heartaches and struggles. We sit vigil by their bedsides and accompany them as their bodies are mounted to the gurney. We deeply mourn their deaths and our lives never feel the same when they are gone.
I want to extend my deepest love and support to people who are currently or recently experiencing homelessness who stood by Sandy in all her beauty and her messiness. You all make life so much better for all of us and I am honored to share community with you everyday--whether up close or from afar, you are always in my heart and thoughts.
Thank you to the hotel staff for working with us, thank you to the Amahoro House for stepping up so much for our people all the time. Thank you to the service providers who did go above and beyond for her over the years (Ty, PATH, SideWalk). Thank you to the many community members, restaurant servers and businesses who treated Sandy with respect and dignity and gave her a second chance when she wasn't at her best. Thank you to our staff (especially Sadie and former staff people Pete & Jiva, her navigators) for always inviting her back with love and patience even when it was challenging to maintain. Thank you to First Christian and for giving us a home, and particularly to Mary for letting Sandy use the bathrooms and warm up so often.
Moments like these, the reality of what we are carrying with people in that 100 year old church basement feels enormous. It's a privilege and an honor that I will never fully understand. I am grateful that you are no longer in pain, Sandy. You made a serious impact on many lives and you will not be forgotten. <3 <3 <3
Meg Martin, MSW, MHP, is the Shelter Program Director for The Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter.