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Diaries of a Vincentian: The Passage

by | Jun 21, 2020 | Formation, Homelessness, Reflections

A diary reveals much about its writer; especially read in retrospect some time later.   It’s not your diary I am thinking of – it’s mine!  The hand-eye-brain co-ordination creates a muscular memory of events that is both cathartic and illuminating. A strong developmental tool, it puts my assumptions under the microscope. Surely at my ripe old age, there is not a lot more to learn?

Volunteering is special. In retirement from a long career in education, I want to contribute to society and share my joy in the fulfilment of everyone’s potential. I can achieve this within the Vincentian Family, walking with vulnerable people, offering a hand-up to become the best version of themselves. Straight forward enough I imagine you thinking.

There’s much I have experienced about human nature as a school principal, inspector and lecturer, so surely I couldn’t be fazed by anything. There’s nothing new under the sun about human nature!

Home for Good Project, which The Passage Resource Centre, operating for the past 40 years, devised for previously homeless people.  People are supported as they transition from life on the streets into secure accommodation.

…looks after some of the most vulnerable people in our society – many of whom are already in poor health – in an area in which Covid 19 is most prevalent.

It is a wonderful project that a trained volunteer, with local knowledge, can signpost to local amenities and places of cultural, educational and entertainment interest. The isolation that sometimes comes from living in a new place, without contacts or friends, is therefore alleviated until the person settles in and creates their new housed life.  What the project doesn’t promise, and cannot promise, is that the beneficiary will improve – will become a changed person.  It is this simple fact that has made the most hammer-heavy impression on me!

…’V was found on the streets by our Outreach Team…Roseina, our Senior Dual Diagnosis Practitioner assessed her.’ The duality is often mental health issues, such as paranoid schizophrenia and substance misuse – as in this case. ‘We are very proud to see that she is bravely taking positive steps towards her recovery’ – Ref. The Passage Leaflet 2020

I “accompanied” M for six months, ably supported by my supervisor “Rita” who involved me in training sessions and input from visiting speakers about all aspects of mental health and substance misuse.  There was ample time given to my needs to discuss how my “client” was reacting to our weekly “coffee and chat “ meeting.  M wasn’t interested in any suggestions I made for going to the cinema, a walk, visit a gallery, a museum, fun sporting activity …… you can add to the list with your imagination!

So, our meetings should have been effortless and easy. Except they weren’t!!  This is where my diary entries show my frustrations, doubting myself and my efforts to “help” M.  Every week we met M was no different.

M just didn’t see any hope for himself, and talked incessantly about himself, his annoying neighbours, his living accommodation, his need to move to another place so that his life would be better.

I realised that the God given set of endorphins, enabling me to be a positive person,  failed to prepare me for M’s inability to help himself. I could literally feel the energy leaking from me, and understood now when people would say “I felt drained by…” .

This is when I realised something fundamental about myself – I just wasn’t very good at this job! How could this be? I was applying the training, I was being kind and I was unfailingly upbeat about his future.

Accompanying M to a health assessment which filled him with dread, I was able to become a true advocate, adding my voice to his as we painted a clear picture to the Assessor of M’s daily struggles.  Afterwards, M turned to me, his face wet with tears – “Thank you so much Dee, I just was dumbstruck and you spoke up for me”  Smiling, I thanked him for letting me walk with him, and it was in that moment I knew! Yes, I was walking with M to do just that – not fix him – but to be there when he needed me.

Jesus said “the poor will always be with us.”  My diary shows that my spiritual growth strengthened as each encounter with the homeless unfolded.  I am in awe of mental health professionals who work daily in this sector, and pray for their continued dedication to  those who truly need to be understood.

“Diaries of a Vincentian” takes a closer look at some of the more personal experiences of Vincentians working with homeless people, slum dwellers and refugees. They shine a light on the moments that inspired us, the situations that left us speechless and shocked, and the people that crossed our paths and showed us that more must be done.

What connects them is that Vincentian commitment to the poorest of the poor; and the hope that as a Family, we can do more.

Dee Mansi

Source: https://vfhomelessalliance.org/

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