Woman Facing Homelessness: “I do not want a park bench dedicated in my honor.”

Tonight, I find myself thinking instead of sleeping. One of the things that is resonating in my mind is something I heard someone who is battling homelessness in Nashville say this week. The 60-year-old woman must leave her housing by the end of the month and right now she has nowhere suitable to go. Yesterday, I asked her how things were progressing and we got into a discussion about how she feels abandoned by Nashville.

Nashville has been doing a lot more recently to address homelessness. I’m a huge fan of the new How’s Nashville  campaign, which uses the evidence-based practices of housing first and assessing individuals under the “Vulnerability Index.” They’ve had great success recently, moving more than 100 people who are likely to die on the streets into permanent, supported housing. In meeting that county-wide milestone, they also helped the national campaign reach  a people housed milestone of 65,000.

While I have never had a great understanding of physics, I do know that when energy surges into something it has to come from somewhere.  My worry ever since this campaign launched was that some of that “new” energy for the “vulnerable” would come from Nashville’s efforts to prevent homelessness–either first-time or relapse.

See, someone who is  “housed” doesn’t need housing–not until they are on the streets.

The idea of living on the streets is not something my friend can accept.

“I wouldn’t last two days on the street,” she said. She has lived on the streets before and she knows its challenges. She has new ones of her own, like life-threatening anemia that often goes untreated.

But, because she’s not currently on the street, some agencies in Nashville associated with campaign are extremely limited in how they can help her. And while she has a serious medical condition, that alone is not enough to qualify her for prioritization under the “Vulnerability Index.”

“No one is more vulnerable than me,” she said. I’m not sure if that’s scientifically true, but I know it’s truly how she feels and it’s a valid self-assessment. I fear for her life if she ends up without a home. So does she, and her focus on survival is overshadowing her hope and altruism.

“I do not want to be a sacrificial lamb that paves the way for changes to help others in the future. I am very, very selfish about this. I do not want my death to benefit anyone. I do not want a park bench dedicated in my honor.” (This line haunts me.)

A bench to honor people who died on the streets was recently installed at Nashville’s Riverfront Park. It was named in honor of Tara Cole, who ended up on the streets because she developed a severe and persistent mental illness and was uninsured, and who was targeted by a group of people and murdered==pushed into the Cumberland River while she was sleeping. (Read more about this in my article in The Contributor out through 2 p.m. on August 28, 2013.)

My friend has always been known for stating her mind bluntly, and it is one of my favorite things about her. But, no, she’s not even a little bit selfish. She, like everyone who battles homelessness all around us, does not deserve to die.

I just wish there was enough energy to go around.

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