Friday marked Street Medicine Detroit's first venture beyond our comfort zone of health care provision. In what will soon become a regular occurrence, we hit the streets with garbage bags in hand to pick up trash around the NSO Tumaini Center. While we fully expected to pick up anything and everything cluttering the area, what we didn't quite expect was the help of two homeless clients who voluntarily chose to clean the area with us!
Social stigmas against the homeless do very much exist; we see it all the time and join in the fight against it as much as possible. Friday’s experience served to reinforce the views we at Street Medicine Detroit have developed of the homeless—that is, that “they” are just like any one of “us.” Both homeless clients shared their visions and dreams for the future and what they were doing to get there. They spoke at length about their families and upbringing, and one of the gentlemen glowingly told us about his recent engagement. The sparkle in his eye and the excitement in his voice were apparent as he spoke about his bride-to-be.
Our experience demonstrated so much to us in such a short amount of time. We have often heard misguided claims that the homeless are in their current position because they are “lazy” and do not want to work or that homelessness would be eradicated if homeless individuals were more hardworking; however, the two men who decided to help during our clean-up did so without prompting or reward. In other words, they went out of their way to do something positive in their community simply because they wanted to help.
With the success of our first clean-up event, we now hope that our future events will attract the attention of more clients. Seeing us out there may prompt them to join in our efforts and help one another in creating a better atmosphere, including continuing the discussions of and plans for their own brighter futures. Who knows—we may even arrive for a clean-up session one day soon only to find that a group of homeless clients have already taken it upon themselves to work together and maintain cleaner streets around the center. While working to keep the streets clean will not solve all of their problems, it is surely the sign of a great first step.
Jonathan Wong, MSII
Sarah Bommarito, MSI