​“When a homeless person dies” – Lessons learned from Many Meals, Week 471 on January 24, 2018

The death of a homeless person is a different kind of story than the death of someone with next of kin to claim the body and bring it to an appropriate conclusion. There are some cases where a family member steps up to that task and reimburses the County for services given, such as cremation. In other cases, they go unclaimed and are cremated, generally buried together in a common grave.

On Saturday, January 27, 2018, people will gather in Plaza Park in Downtown Ventura to honor 55 homeless people who died in Ventura alone during 2017.  It is the 12th Annual Memorial for reflection, inspiration music and refreshments.  The Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura has taken the lead in this worthy endeavor. For more information, call 818.281.6249, or http://www.liftupyourvoice.org.

There were five deaths of homeless people that I know of in Santa Paula in 2017.  It’s not a good ending for them, and it’s not the way to end homelessness. These people died from untreated illnesses and undiagnosed ailments. Some due to violence and another due to improper living conditions after hospital discharge. Homeless friends always want to gather and have someone say something.  They will always find something good to say. Always.

In a different circumstance, and equally sad, is when a homeless person hears of the death of a family member while in jail or sometime after the event. When they are in jail, the Chaplain will make notification after they have confirmed the death with the Medical Examiner.

In one case this week, I saw the depths of grief the likes of which are hard to imagine or describe. To protect my friend, I will say “Chris” which could be male or female and refer to Chris as “they/them”.

Chris has been on the streets of Santa Paula for many years, more than 10. Chris called me on Sunday to take them to the ER for an eye injury. I knew that Chris’ mother had died in a local rest home and the funeral was the next day. Chris knew they had to be at the service but they were sick, injured, and filthy and it would be hard to get cleaned up and sober for the memorial.

I called a family member to let them know Chris was at the hospital and they said they would pick them up and take them home. It would be better to start the preparation process the night before. The next day at the service Chris was not there and nowhere to be found. Chris came to the drop-in center crying, mad and lamenting the missed funeral. In doing so, Chris was punching their face and lying on the table.  There are years of guilt from stealing, lying and making messes layered on that table and no way to say “I’m sorry”.

Today, the Fire Department was called to Chris’ location but Chris would not agree to be transported to the hospital. Captain Arana called me and said Chris wanted me to take responsibility for that. By the time I arrived, Chris had disappeared. Even now, Chris is not at the usual places. I fear what I will find one day soon.

Prolonged substance abuse harms the body, the brain and the soul. We see it on our streets every day. Los Angeles has 58,000 homeless people. That equates to more people than the combined communities of Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru.  Impossible to imagine managing that problem.  Like I’ve said before, when they are ready to live the life God designed for them, we will be here with all resources, support and good will.

Next week:  “When the neighborhood gets cranky”.

Mental Health Moment:  Each week, Dr. Jason Miller, a Psychologist at the Behavior Health Clinic here in Santa Paula, gives us tips on how to deal with problems facing our homeless population and ways to handle difficult encounters with others. He talked about what to do when someone is having a seizure. Several of our homeless people are subject to that.  The best thing to do is to try and break the fall so they don’t hit their head on a hard object. Turn them on the side, speaking words of comfort, like, “Help is on the way, I will stay with you, you will be okay.” Try to clean their airway if they are choking. They may often vomit, and it is important your face is away from them. Don’t put you hand in their mouth and put something between their teeth like a soft wallet. Not a pencil or your finger for sure. The seizure could last for ten minutes or more. Have someone call 911 and let the first responders take over when they arrive.

Food Rescue:  We learned that Ventura County has made the final cut for a grant to pursue “Waste Free Ventura County” saving food from the landfills. More on that in a few days.

Shower hours are being changed from 10 am to 1 pm on Friday so the mobile clinic stationed at the hospital can meet with the homeless who take advantage of a weekly, hot shower, clean towels, hygiene items, new underwear and socks. Jill Wallerstedt, John Flores, Melinda White and a helper are managing that event. County staff is amazing.

Next time you buy some, will you buy an extra pair or two for us. While only please. They need to know when it’s time to wash them.

If you are interested in donating to a fund for money to wash clothes, let me know. SPIRIT of Santa Paula, Post Office Box 728, Santa Paula CA 93061-0728. When you buy from Amazon, please go to www.smileamazon.com and select SPIRIT of Santa Paula as your charity of choice to receive a percentage of all your spending.

Thank you notes are going out this week to those who have supported the work on behalf of our neighbors in the margins.

Menu tomorrow is pulled-pork casserole with taco flavored humus sauce, fresh buttered cooked carrots from Garman’s Pub, rice from El Pescador, romaine salad with fresh tomatoes, orange slices, rolls and butter. We have five trays of pork not served at the school district cafeterias. Such a money saver and wise use of excellent food and protein.

Kay Wilson-Bolton, Volunteer Director

SPIRIT of Santa Paula

a 501C3 Corporation founded in 2002
Serving the Least Powerful and Most Vulnerable in our Community