Meet a Man Who Needs Our Help: a Letter from Susan Kirk
“Thomas” has been getting his mail at our offices since the early 1990s. Other than collecting his letters and drinking the occasional cup of coffee, he has not only declined to ever ask for other assistance, but he’s also consistently rebuffed our efforts to get to know him or his needs. He does, however, hand me a $20 bill once a year, which he says is for the coffee.
During overnight outreach not too long ago, we came across him. He’s 76 years old, legally blind and physically impaired. He was sitting motionless on a bench at a bus depot, a small valise at his feet. Palms resting on his thighs, he gazed into the distance, seemingly waiting for time to pass. He nodded off for a moment and then jerked his head back upright.
We knew, though, that the buses stopped running an hour earlier. And we knew that he knew that, too. But in the small hours of the night, Thomas has nowhere else to go.
The way in which Thomas was slogging through the night was a sharp reminder of the public vulnerability endured by anyone with no place to lay his head for the night. Probably he was afraid to even try to find a place to try to fall asleep.
I would be afraid, too. I can’t imagine letting my guard down enough to close my eyes for even a few minutes in public, much less muster the trust we need to feel—yes, trust—to deliberately relinquish our consciousnesses to sleep. Imagine trying to do so, while protecting every single possession you have, in a bag at your feet.
Frankly, I don’t blame Thomas for keeping himself awake. There are those who prey on vulnerable souls. I’ve heard stories from people of being beaten, robbed or raped, simply for sleeping outside in a public space. Surely, he’s lived those stories.
Our team has never stopped trying to find ways to get past Thomas’ formidable defenses and we’ve finally done it. His health has deteriorated so sharply that he met with our caseworkers. He recently agreed to seek a housing placement and his case is moving quickly forward; hopefully, by the time you read this, he’ll have a room of his own with a bed and a door that locks.
Thomas exemplifies the dedication and flexibility with which our team approaches our clients. Clients are extremely vulnerable, in every sense of the word, and can have emotional barriers that take years to overcome. We tailor our approaches to individual clients, because a conversation that might be comfortable for one client might send another skittering away from us.
Admittedly, working at Thomas’ pace can be frustrating. But we’ve been at this long enough to know that pressuring him won’t accelerate the housing process, it’ll just come across as bull-dozing. So we keep stepping forward, letting clients set the speed, always with an eye out for that pivotal moment when they are ready to accept change.
We and our partners are striving, as a county and as part of a nationwide campaign, to end chronic homelessness. But we need you with us to actually end homelessness, for Thomas and the hundreds of others in his situation. Please give online at www.BethesdaCares.org, and we’ll help them, together.
Susan W. Kirk
P.S. We can actually end homelessness, but only with your help. Because our office space is donated, our overhead is a very low 5.2% so roughly 95 cents of every dollar you give goes directly to support our programs. Your gift is tax deductible to the extent permitted by law.