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We Need to Do Better For Those Experiencing Homelessness With Chronic Illness

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I’d like to tell you Eric’s story. Based on his condition when we recently met by chance, I don’t expect that he will be around for much longer. One of the castaway, forgotten, living and breathing human beings on the fringe of society in a large, prosperous city we choose not to see. Someone who if they approached you for loose change in a parking lot you would likely avert your eyes and pretend not to hear him. Or you might notice that he struggles to walk due to the toll that starvation paired with uncontrolled diabetes had taken on his slight, frail body.

One night last fall unable to sleep, I was sitting outside on my porch enjoying the last of the mild evenings that the month of October has in store. No traffic on the street, houses mostly dark, his footsteps startled me. I stood from my chair to go inside to bed and that’s when he spotted me from across the eerily quiet street. This is how I happened to meet Eric.

Like most people who have had an impact on me from a chance meeting, I believe there was a reason we crossed paths at 1 am when I would typically be in bed. Normally if someone was to approach me in the dark when I was at home alone, I would have high tailed it inside so fast out of fear. But I sensed he wasn’t calling out to me in the street to do me harm, though common sense told me to be cautious. I asked him to come closer to me because I was having a hard time hearing him clearly and didn’t want the neighbors getting upset at the raised voices. He slowly came across the street, very politely introduced himself and burst into tears. I’m not sure if it was from making a human connection in the early morning hours, but the only thing he asked for was for something to drink. He explained he was diabetic and hadn’t eaten in some time and was feeling poorly because of that. He collapsed in my driveway and I couldn’t not help this man I just met.

Having had diabetes myself, I can’t imagine how he’s still alive with very little food and no insulin. Giving him a few juice boxes I had on hand he dropped them. I didn’t immediately see in the dark that he was missing most of his fingers. He apologized for dropping them, then explained that he lost most of his fingers from frostbite last winter. Also he was due to have both of his feet amputated. My heart broke in a million pieces for this stranger that night. I’ve cried so many tears for Eric and others like him who don’t have access to the things you and I take for granted. Medicine, proper nutrition, a warm bed to sleep in at night.

As I packed him some food, water and a warm comforter to take along with him that evening, I wished I could do more. I also got enraged with the state of this city and society as a whole that allows this to happen. I didn’t ask how he came to be homeless, but the reality is it doesn’t matter one bit. Eric is someone’s son, still lives and breathes but has no options. I know you won’t forget me Eric and I won’t forget you. We as a society need to do better to help.

Getty image by bodnarchuk

Originally published: January 6, 2021
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