Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Cost of Being Homeless: Part 3 - Health

In the last episode of this blog, I touched on the subject of health issues in homeless shelters. Let's dig a little deeper.
Let's face it, most homeless people aren't in the best of shape upon entering the shelter. Part of losing a home, and living outside for even a day or so at a time can take its toll. So when you combine 300 men in a shelter, some of them are going to be sick. Which means you stand a good chance of catching whatever it is they have. Colds, flu and coughs run rampant through a shelter, especially in winter months.
And what about people with allergies? I'm allergic to a lot of different things, including cigarette smoke and perfumes and colognes. People can't smoke in the shelter, but they come in reeking of cigarette smoke. My own symptoms range from coughing and hacking, to sneezing and migraine headaches. With the smells that permeate a shelter, it's no wonder people try to cover it up with cologne, even though they've been told not to, repeatedly.
Then there's other health issues, like lice, which I touched on briefly earlier. The mattresses in the emergency dorms are sprayed down every morning by the cleaning staff, but that doesn't solve the problem of people coming in with lice. Just sitting next to a man who is scratching is enough to spread it.
Mental health issues run rampant in a shelter. People talk to themselves, people yell out in rage or in sickness. OCD people do OCD things. These are things the normal person might see once in a while, from one or two people they know or meet. It's seen every day in the shelter.
Men fall out of beds. Men have seizures. Men have disabilities, and a few of them get disability payments because of that. Others with a disability wait to get their claim processed. More than a year in some cases. I do not claim problems with mental health. I am not disabled. I have allergies, and I get migraines. Technically, I should be taking medication for High Blood Pressure and Diabetes, but health care, while it is available, is generally hard to come by and expensive.
There are programs that will pay for prescription drugs -once, and a free clinic offers a nurse to come by twice a month. But that's not enough to care for 300+ men. So they go to the Emergency Room, mostly at Wake Med. Wake Med will charge them for the visit, but as my mother used to say, 'You can't get blood from a turnip.' So the bills go unpaid, written off by Wake Med. Guess who pays for that?
Finally, there's the general wear and tear that living in a shelter can do to a man's body and spirit. No one likes to live in the shelter. We'd all like better lives. When we can't get that for one reason or another, despair might start to sink in. I have no data on the suicide rate of homeless people, but it's something that happens.
Just chalk it up to being another cost we who are homeless have to bear.
This is all coming to a head, people. There are a lot of things that GOVERNMENT can and should do to fix this situation. I'll cover that in a later blog.