It was a quite a surprise to discover that the volunteer team leader for the night, Courtney, had once been a guest at HOPE. She was so grateful for the help she received from HOPE, that she led a team of coworkers to serve dinner at HOPE. While serving, she told the folks, “I was a guest here…”
They tell us that many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. So, we may know people, or be people, who are vulnerable to experiencing homelessness. Lately, about 32% of the guests at HOPE are experiencing homelessness for the first time. As we hear of large-company layoffs, we know that we need to be prepared for more people becoming vulnerable…
Courtney had worked several years for a major cellphone provider. She had worked her way up from sales to assistant manager and then to store manager. She had a strong, rising career.
Shortly after her company moved her to manage a store in Ohio, the father of her 7-year old daughter reemerged into their lives – he was suing for custody of his daughter.
This put in motion a series of events that would dramatically impact Courtney’s life. She presumed that the judge would rule in favor of a care-giving mother over an absentee father – the judge did not… She did not foresee that she would be ordered to share custody and bear the expense and time to transport her daughter to and from dad’s home.
It seemed that the best course of action would be to move back to Michigan. However, with no available store manager positions, this would be a temporary demotion and reduction in pay. But, it was temporary, so, they should be okay…
When Courtney relocated to Michigan, she kept the same cost of living she had had as a store manager – her car, loans, and the general things of life. Her bank account was quickly being depleted. Before long, she was having major financial problems.
She lost her apartment. She stayed with a friend for as long as she was able to pay her $100 a week; but when she could no longer do that, Courtney started sleeping in her car. Now, her daughter started staying with her dad all the time… The state said she made too much money to qualify for any aid; landlords said she did not make enough to qualify for an apartment.
Courtney slept in her car and showered at Planet Fitness each day while continuing to work. Trying to pay all of her bills was still dragging her down more each week. Her only choice was to declare bankruptcy – this proved to be a pivotal decision. Bankruptcy allowed her to get out of her high-priced vehicle and into a more affordable one. She was now able to save a couple of dollars.
She spent 11 days at HOPE. It gave her a safe place to sleep and someone to talk to about planning a way forward. She was able to save enough to get back into an apartment and to get her daughter back into her home.
In the year that has passed since Courtney was at HOPE, she has been promoted to assistant manager and then to store manager. It seems that she has her old life back… or is it different?
Courtney says the experience has given her a new outlook on life. She is more grateful; but also more cautious with her spending – she doesn’t take things for granted, anymore. She says, “I had let myself get a little too big for my britches.” She won’t let that happen, again.
When you think about the faces of people experiencing homelessness, it is important to note that there are no stereotypes. As we celebrate Christmas, let us all be grateful for what we have and a little more generous with those who lack.
People often include charitable giving in their Christmas celebration. Please remember HOPE and the work we do. We need your help. Any size gift means a lot to us. Please give.
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This is a story about Doug; Doug’s story does not have a typical ending. It is always our goal at HOPE to help guests secure housing. In the case of Doug, the goal was different. Our goal with Doug was to work toward a peaceful transition to the next life.
Doug came to HOPE’s Recuperate Care Center in the fall of 2015 after his hospitalization for a lung problem. As it turned out, the lung problem was cancer. One of the complicating factors for attending Doug’s medical needs was the stage of his cancer was unknown.
While his medical team was arranging for a variety of diagnostic tests it was easy to observe that Doug was rapidly losing weight.
Throughout the course of treatments and evaluations, HOPE nursing staff was in regular contact with the doctors and staff of the cancer center. There was regular collaboration with the Oakland County public health nurse who was following Doug’s treatment and care. To help with Doug’s weight loss, the nurses provided nutritional supplement drinks.
In mid fall, Doug’s daughters reached out to us and the Recuperative Center Manager who encouraged them to visit, even though they lived in Tennessee. Everyone was encouraged when the daughter's visited. It was clear that the visit lifted Doug’s spirits.
As Thanksgiving approached, he was getting worse and everyone felt a return visit from his girls would be good medicine for him. He was aware of his deteriorating health, as a result he refused to have staff call them. Doug did not want his daughters to observe his decline.
In December testing confirmed what the nursing staff suspected, Doug had an advanced stage four cancer that had spread to other sites. Doug's weight loss continued despite efforts to boost him up.
At Christmas he once again refused contacting his daughters, who wanted to visit. Doug had a quiet courage about him. It is difficult for most to face the end of their mortal selves. Doug seemed to be at peace with his situation. During the holidays Doug chose a Christmas ornament that said, “Believe.” In retrospect, he seemed to be peacefully preparing himself for the great adventure beyond.
HOPE received a donation of books, which included titles by James Patterson and a John Grisham. Doug quickly secured the titles he wanted most and began to read. Most of his spare time was spent reading.
After the first of the year Doug’s condition became progressively worse. As Doug’s condition developed we realized that Doug did not have an Advanced Directive. HOPE Staff was able to secure blank copies from the cancer center where Doug was being treated. One of our nurses; Chris, who has over 15 years experience in hospice care, sat down with Doug. Chris was able to explain and complete the advance directive with him. Following that signing the advanced directive was taken to his sister a few miles away. Doug’s condition was explained to his sister as well as the need for the advance directive, which she signed.
Around the same time there was another conversation about allowing Doug’s daughters to visit him. After this conversation Doug agreed to have his daughters visit. By the time his daughters arrived from Tennessee, Doug needed to go to the hospital. HOPE Staff spent time explaining to them his condition and how seriously ill he was. Doug’s daughters were able to take him to the hospital. While at the hospital he was put in hospice care. A few short days later Doug passed peacefully with his family by his side.
Everything that could have been done for Doug was done. During Doug’s time with us we were able to get him approved for housing; which could not be realized. He received excellent, compassionate care leaving no stone unturned to help. Doug’s case required collaboration on all parts and between organizations. Each person who interacted with Doug’s case can say they did their best to be of service.
Lastly, it must be said Doug made friends so very easily. He had a regular group of guys around him all the time. Professionals (doctors, nurses, social workers, etc.) are trained to keep a professional distance from the people they work with. Working with Doug felt more like helping a friend going through a rough patch. His smile and caring attitude towards others transcended professional boundaries. It made it nearly impossible not to like him! As a result, his passing touched everyone that worked with him. We all received more than we gave and we have Doug to thank for that!