Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Down and Out in Melbourne

I have to apologise, but the tone of this post isn’t exactly cheery.

Things have been rough lately for many of the guys who use the homeless services I run. The cold weather is having a real impact. A number of guys have ended up in hospital with conditions like fevers and pneumonia.

About the only saving grace in such situations is the major hospitals in Oz are public and essentially free.
Yet getting a hospital bed is not the end of the guys’ problems. Often their condition will only be stabilised and then there is pressure on them to be discharged.
Once they are discharged it means straight back onto the street, there simply are not enough emergency accommodation beds in the city.

So a good deal of our time over the past little while has been work around this kind of issue.

Yesterday for example, a regular of ours (I’ll call him Dave) showed up at our breakfast service clearly very unwell. Dave had a high fever and could barely move for pain. My offsider Greg and I spent an hour making sure he got to hospital. Then I was on the phone a number of times to try to get Dave’s needs followed up.

Dave was discharged today, he’d been on intravenous anti-biotics overnight and looked quite a bit better. But nothing like well enough to spend a night on the street or under a bridge.

So I spent a good chunk of the morning phoning around to get Dave some emergency accommodation. The best I could organise: two nights of motel accommodation paid for by an accommodation agency.

As you can guess a situation like this is extremely frustrating. We are working in a system that is in my opinion badly broken.

It would be easy to get very down about how little we can achieve. Yet, what I take from an experience like this is essentially uplifting. I have done what I can, I have tried my hardest. Dave has at least a couple of nights of safety. That means something.

And who knows what we might achieve tomorrow.

Now for a change of pace a Pacific Reef Heron I “caught” up on the NSW south coast as he hunted along a wave washed rock shelf.I haven’t seen one of these guys before although they are apparently quite common around our coast.


Michele Emrath said...

Your optimism is encouraging, but so hard to mimic. I can't imagine being faced with the impossible every day, and maintaining a positive attitude. My problems seem much smaller having read about Dave.


Old Kitty said...

Oh how horrible for these people without homes especially in winter - horrible. I'm so glad that you and your organisation are there to help but I realise how overstretched and underfunded any organisation helping the neediest always are - always!! It's the most damning indication of the health of a relatively wealthy nation when the poorest and those most vulnerable are left to fend for themselves like so.

I hope tomorrow does bring a more optimistic day for you and people like Dave.

And you know you can only do your best and you do this all the time in your line of work so yay to you!!

And that heron is an absolute beauty. Really - it's an amazing looking bird. I love how you capture the droplets of water around it in the first pic! Very dramatic! Lovely!

Take care

Jaydee Morgan said...

I can't imagine doing what you deal - especially knowing that you are dealing with a system that is badly broken. However, I think it's incredible how much of yourself you put in to helping others. You did all you could - and of that, you should be proud.

Jemi Fraser said...

We have pretty good health care and help for those in need in Canada, but it's never enough. There's just not enough money - especially with the state of the economy at the moment. It truly is heartbreaking.

Kristen M. said...

Kudos for being one of the people working to change the world, Al.

And that heron is very handsome (or beautiful).

Ann said...

It is terrible, not being able to do as much as we would like. I can only say and this might cheer you up a small bit, at least in your country hospital services are free. Dave would not be so lucky in the US. The US is so negligent in the Health Care Area.

Belle said...

I love your optimism - it can be so easily to get down in such a situation. Yes, who knows what you will achieve tomorrow!

Terry Stonecrop said...

Ann's right, here in the US, Dave would probably die in the streets.

It's good you're there to help him. The cold is terrible for the homeless, even in the Florida cold snaps, which aren't that bad, some die.

Best of luck in your work.

The heron is beautiful:)

Christine said...

Poor Dave. Hope he survives the winter. If you didn't rejoice in the small successes, such as getting Dave into accommodation for a couple of nights, then your work might get you down.
As to the heron; it looks so intent. What a grand bird!

Al said...

Hi Michele,
I agree it is hard to maintain an optimistic attitude. The key to surviving in this type of work place is to look at what you have done not focusing on what you cannot achieve. It is a useful perspective to understand that other people have it much tougher, but that doesn’t trivialise our own issues. After all the only frame of reference we really have is our own.

Hi Jennifer,
Thank you.
It is terrible and (as you say) unjust. Oz is basically richer than it has ever been (even with the downturn) yet we do less now for our poor than we did in the 60s and 70s.
The heron is gorgeous. I was lucky with the water in that first one, as I snapped the wave splashed up.

Hi Jaydee,
Thank you, I am more proud of my staff and volunteers, without them I could do none of it. It is hard and tiring, but helping others is its own reward.

Hi Jemi,
Our health system is similar to that in Canada. The sad fact is that it has been under funded since the late 1980s. Heartbreaking is the word.

Hi Kristen,
Thank you!
He or she is indeed attractive, I don’t know the sex. There is a white morph, but neither form is very sexually dimorphic.

Hi Ann,
Thank goodness we have had the social foresight to put in a free health system. We have a parallel private system, but the bottom line is everyone is entitled to health care here. I have to say I have always scratched my head at the US system, it must be the only first-world healthcare without a significant free public hospital system.

Hi Belle,
Thank you! All we can do in the end is keep trying :-)
Belle said...

Hi Terry,
Thank you.
As I said to Ann, I just don’t get how such a rich nation, and one that leads the world in so much can have such a big blind spot. Ah well, I guess nowhere is perfect.

Hi Christine,
I hope so to, he is a good bloke. He was looking a lot better today, so fingers crossed.
The small steps are usually all we can do, so they need to be recognised. Focusing on the negative (other than to learn from mistakes) is a sure path to burn out.
The heron is indeed grand!

Words A Day said...

It does sound broken - but at least the hospitals are free and he can get some healthcare, and he has you to look out for him-
it must be hard not to get burnt out every now and again but the work you are doing is so invaluable - hope he recovers well... All the best

Kyna said...

The world needs more people like you in it. 'Nuff said.

Robert Guthrie said...

Good luck w/your work! I just joined a Homeless Task Force, trying to expand services where I live in the US. You're making a difference first-hand. Wow.

Al said...

Hi Niamh,
The frustrating thing is the system was better 25 years ago. It is sheer neglect that has reduced things to such a state. The only saving grace is free health care.
The burn out rates in this type of work are tremendous. I use a very self reflective practice (does that make sense) to monitor my own well being. Generally it works well.
Dave is continuing to improve. Thank you.

Hi Kyna,
Thanks mate!

Hi Robert,
Welcome. Good on you, the more people who get involved in any way the better!