My “Whys” Connect

 In Reflections
Reflections from the Front Lines

My “Whys” Connect

“Housing is Healthcare” is more clearly coming to light.

It has been six days since my last post and 17 weeks since losing my sense of smell.

Overall, at the Human Services Campus, we have not seen a decline in the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness nor in the number of people accessing services. The number of COVID-positive cases remains next to zero. The temperatures have increased, pushing 85 degrees. It does not take long to feel perspiration build when standing outside. The number of hours of daylight gradually increasing. The music on Madison continues, some days at increasing volumes. It’s difficult to complain when their outdoor space is all they have. From the privilege of my office, it can be an annoyance. And I can walk away, I can return home at the end of the day. The people on the street have nowhere to go.

Maricopa County Public Health releases a monthly report of “transient deaths.” This report details first and last name, age, gender, race/ethnicity, death date, manner of death, death zip code, and death place type (sidewalk, alley, motel, hospital, business, etc.). When the email arrived this week, I quickly noticed there were two attachments rather than one. The text in the email itself seemed a little longer, I quickly scanned it. I should have really paused to read the whole thing. Instead, I registered in my brain that it said: “request to add event description.”

I ripped into one of the attached spreadsheets. I noticed the file name had the words “accident, suicides, natural decline.” I thought, “oh, that’s new.”

I usually scroll to the bottom of the list to see the total. For January and February 2022 the total for this spreadsheet is 46. Then I go back to the top and see words jump out, “hypertension,” “unknown medical history,” “new onset of suicidality.”

I stop and think “whoa.” That’s different. What’s in the other spreadsheet?

I open the other document. There are 58 rows of information about people. The event column is not in this spreadsheet. The file has the words “homicide, undetermined, pending” in the name.

I flip back to the other spreadsheet and it all comes together. This new column is describing a brief medical history and circumstances surrounding the death. I went back to the email for an explanation. It tells me that there was a public records request to add in the event description. Due to the sensitive nature of some of the cases, the event description is not being provided for homicide, undetermined and pending.

Now there is a lot that is overwhelming and sad about this at many levels. The total of transient deaths in our county for two months is 104.

104 lives ended.

Curiosity and interest in who represented these lives got the best of me. And I read more of the details. I saw “untreated stage III Classical Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” And my worlds collide. Some of you may have noticed posts on social media over the last two weeks about my efforts to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). As part of the campaign that runs through May 14, I am working with a group of Phoenicians to raise awareness and resources. Each of us has personal reasons for supporting LLS.

Part of my “why” in supporting LLS is because of my Dad’s battle with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. And for him and so many others, I have seen the financial struggles when dealing with expensive treatments.

In my daily work at the Human Services Campus, I meet people who are unhoused and unhealthy due to cancer; they don’t have the resources to access care for themselves. Sometimes it is the cost of medical care that led to their loss of housing. Part of my “why” at HSC is because I believe everyone deserves access to safe, permanent, affordable housing.

And so for the 42-year old female who lost her battle in January, I had to sit back and wonder what was her journey? Was her cancer untreated because she couldn’t afford treatments? If she had come to the Campus could we have helped her? If she had known of LLS could they have helped her?

I will never have the answers. What I have is more information, these data points of all sorts of chronic health conditions that “transients” die with…. throat cancer, diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure, hypertension, renal disease. How many couldn’t afford their healthcare? and certainly couldn’t afford healthcare AND housing? Many of the notes include “alcoholism” and “substance abuse.” How many of these lives started to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol as the only way to lessen some of the pain?

My “whys” connect. The refrain of “housing is healthcare” more clearly coming to light. Everyone deserves affordable healthcare and affordable housing. None of us should be forced to make that choice.

Some days I’m left with more questions than answers. And most days I’m left with a greater desire to find solutions.

104 complex, diverse lives. Housing is healthcare x 104.

About the Human Services Campus

Founded in 2005, the Human Services Campus is a collaborative force of partner organizations united on one campus to end homelessness. Located just west of downtown Phoenix, 16 independent agencies on the Campus see nearly 1,000 individuals every day, offering a holistic range of client services including: reunification with family and friends; mental, physical and dental health; shelter; employment; meals; legal services and housing. Having all of these resources in one location with intra-agency communications makes it more feasible to provide a customized engagement for each client to help end their homelessness. For more information, visit www.hsc-az.org.

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