Editor’s Note: The following reflection was shared with us by Rev. Karen Davison, proud mother of its author. First United Methodist Church of Aberdeen’s partnership with Revival of Grays Harbor in providing services to the homeless population was recently featured in The Daily World, a newspaper serving the larger Grays Harbor area. Program founder Emily Reed shares that First UMC was the only area church willing to host the program.
Reflection by Kim Lively
There has got to be a better way to take care of people with mental health needs.
There’s a homeless woman who comes into the shelter when we’re open (nights below freezing, and nasty weather fronts), and she clearly has mental health needs. This woman—I think she was a high school classmate of mine—rants and yells and acts out in other ways, and (as a point of last resort) we sometimes have to call the cops to have her removed from the premises for the night. Other times, she’s perfectly lucid. We’re never sure which version of her to expect.
We don’t have our own separate facility yet because we don’t have the resources right now. We use the basement of the only church in the county that was kind enough to open their doors to the neediest among us. Unfortunately, this means that we’re usually only able to open for the night, and have to kick them out in the morning.
It’s heartbreaking to have to kick these people out in the mornings because you know they have nowhere to go. But this woman in particular, when she’s not in her right mind, physically and verbally refuses to leave. This morning was one of those days.
We had to relinquish the area to a church group that uses it each Monday morning, which meant that everyone needed to be packed and gone, and we had to have the lower floor cleaned and ready for the next group. Everyone was gone; the area was cleaned; and we were ready to lock up and go home.
But…this woman had to use the bathroom.
You see, when you’re homeless, you don’t have running water. You don’t have a secure place to leave your things, so you have to carry all your things with you all the time. And you don’t have a bathroom or a shower. Being homeless robs you of even the most basic human dignities.
Everyone was supposed to be gone, but she forced her way back inside to use the bathroom, and I didn’t have the heart to force her out because her only other option was to go outside.
When she refuses to leave, her friends and the shelter staff do everything possible to get her to leave peacefully and of her own volition. This often involves someone getting her to go outside with them for a smoke. But…she’d just had a cigarette, and wasn’t having it. So one of her homeless friends tried a different tack and said, “Do you wanna go outside and get high?”
But no, she wouldn’t leave the bathroom until she was good and ready, so her friend left, and I stayed outside the stall to make sure she left when she was done.
She chattered nonsensically for a few more minutes, to no-one in particular; I just happened to be there to hear it. Then she said something that really broke my heart.
“I don’t want to get high. I want to get well.”
She didn’t want to leave without her medicine.
But…we’re not a medical facility. We can only offer a warm, secure place to sleep so they can live to fight another day; then we have to send them away each morning to fend for themselves.
There has to be a better way. People shouldn’t be thrown out like garbage because they’re sick and can’t afford to pay for the health care they need.
People aren’t garbage. They’re human beings. We need to do better as a country, as Americans, to take care of our fellow human beings, so they don’t end up in the gutter with Arby’s wrappers and empty packets of McNugget sauce.
“We need to do better. We need to find a better way.”
Kim Lively is a retired Air Force veteran (Master Sargeant) who has returned to her home county to seek ways to help people. She serves as volunteer Board Member for Revival of Grays Harbor, a nonprofit organization that, among other things, operates a Cold Weather Shelter in conjunction with the First United Methodist Church in Aberdeen, WA.