Life on the Street – Occupy Medical Tales

Occupy Medical to the Rescue

Occupy Medical to the Rescue

Occupy Medical clinic sets up every Sunday in downtown Eugene, Oregon. It is a free street clinic being run as a living example of what patient driven care looks like. This is how single payer changes healthcare. It brings humanity back into a dynamic that is currently run by insurance companies and out of touch administrators.

One of our teams is the support service team which tends to mental health and social service. This is a story from Ken Neubeck, one of our support service leads, told in sections as it transpired. The problem is sadly commonplace. The solution – less common.

December 14, 2015 – Today was the first time I was shaken in my Occupy Medical duties. And made very angry. The serious state of a homeless middle-aged couple whose belongings and bedding were soaked from recent rain storms and whose things got taken away by the City of Eugene while both were at the hospital ER was the trigger for me. They have no shelter or dry clothes and slept outside last night in garbage bags with holes cut in them for head and arms. God knows where they are sleeping tonight.

The woman of the couple has some serious health problems, apart from anxiety attacks from reflecting on their plight. She sobbed as she told this story. No one should have to live this way. No one.

I will be working with them tomorrow to get their belongings back from the City, drying their clothes and bedding at the laundromat, and protecting their leaky tent from water pooling up inside by getting them a tarp to go over the tent. They need to be warm and dry, first off, before they can effectively start addressing their health and other problems. This case was only one click on my tally counter. Eugene needs do get on top of homelessness before such good people die from neglect and City policies.

December 15, 2015 – Today I was able to get a couple’s previously confiscated tent and belongings (clothing, medications, eyeglasses) back from Public Works storage where they were held for three weeks. We also dried the few things salvageable from their current very wet tent at the laundromat. The couple has arranged a warm safe place to sleep for tonight and then will seek to camp once again, this time warm and dry.

It would be nice if they could settle into a place like Nightingale Health Sanctuary, given the regular care-giving needed by one of the two partners who has a disability and a number of health problems. But at least for now they are safe, warm and their stress levels have plummeted since they came to Occupy Medical yesterday.

December 21, 2015 – The couple has been offered camping space on private land belonging to the male partner’s previous employer. He has also been offered his job back with that employer. So the couple is stabilized and were in good spirits when I saw them on Sunday at Occupy Medical. What a difference from when I met with them only a week before at OM and they had just about lost all hope.

There are so many folks like this out in the cold, just trying to hang on. It is criminal that so many people lack housing, and then are cited, fined, and often their tents and belongings taken away on top of it. If you wanted to invent a policy to shorten the lives of deeply impoverished people, criminalization of homelessness would be that policy. Ironically, today is National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, dedicated to remembering our unhoused neighbors who have died in the streets. We need to abolish the conditions that make such a day even necessary.

Note from Sue: As the clinic manager, I have heard stories like this from many different volunteers and many different patients. This one stood out because it had a quick remedy. Keep in mind that this solution is temporary at best.

All of our citizens can get a camping citation for sleeping outside or even for simply sitting on a blanket outdoors. This constant barrage of costly citations keep the unhoused in an oppressive cycle of terror. How do they escape the cycle and find housing, a job and stability? It is simple: get rid of the camping ban. We are Americans. We can do better by our citizens.

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