We’ve re-opened the emergency room for 4 nights. Long dormant, it’s now fully operational, serving homeless men, women and youth at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville. I found it ironic when volunteer Don Post said, “You realize this was the emergency room for Fairview Ridges before they moved across the street, don’t you?” Perfect. You see, we often say that housing is healthcare and homelessness is traumatic. So, welcome to the trauma unit.
While Dakota County funded a stay of 4 nights in the most extreme cold last weekend, that stay has ended. You’ll find your fellow Blue Cross, Medica, UCare, Preferred One and Healthpartners members now being sheltered in a patchwork of churches for the next few days, supported by generous donors to a gofundme page and churches willing to open their doors through the holidays.
If you can step over the beds when you walk through these ER doors, you’ll find Dakota County residents in need of help with untreated trauma, open wounds, a bleeding rectum, prescriptions running out on bi-polar medication, prenatal care, a teething, crying baby, Crohn’s disease, cancer, incontinence, untreated schizophrenia, and exhaustion.
What happens when you walk through your emergency room doors? You expect help immediately. It’s a crisis! Here, people wait. They wait until it hurts really bad or the vomit comes or the last pill is gone. We expect people who don’t have a watch or a smart phone, a day planner or a bus token, to schedule an appointment, remember the date, get to the clinic and be there on time. Instead they say, “I’ll just go to the hospital, I know what time they are open.” And you wonder why your healthcare costs go up?
These 30+ men, women, youth and children, graduates of Lakeville High, Eastview High, Rosemount High, Farmington High, Burnsville High and Hastings High, from 1963 to 2016 (yes, 2016) seek the most simple cure to what ails you: rest, rest, rest. Then, proper nutrition, protection from the elements, connection to people. When I asked a gentleman who was sleeping at a shopping center in Eagan how much time he spends alone, do you know what he said? “95% of my time.” How would you feel if the darkness in your mind or the isolation of living in your vehicle caused a solitary confinement in the middle of Dakota County?
With a lack of housing that poor people can afford, even employed poor people, they join waiting lists for an emergency. The emergency of needing shelter. The federally mandated plan is that counties coordinate the entry of those who have nowhere stable to live, a good thing, and then add them to a waiting list. Would you be ok with me telling you that I will put you on a waiting list when you call me and say it’s an emergency? Would you patiently wait?
When you enter through the doors of this 4 day emergency room, you might find Jeff Asher: former cop, former military, current nurse. He volunteered to review the gaping wound, the pregnant belly, the fevered child. Dakota County sent
housing staff, mental health and social workers, ready to introduce themselves to those who live in the shopping centers, a tunnel, the woods or on the bus. I wonder if they’ll connect a week from now if the patients have returned outside because its just not a Red Cross type of emergency that we shelter them now.
If you’re answering the phones in this emergency room, you’ll hear the woman who has slept in fast food shops in West St. Paul this week but is growing tired; she’s due to be induced on Friday and asks if she can stay. Yes, but p.s. no inducing at this emergency room. The last thing I need here is Mary and the baby Jesus, though it would be fitting to find her under temporary shelter on Christmas weekend. You might take the call, repeatedly, from the pleading family with twin, autistic 4-year-olds. They can’t come to this emergency room because they “belong to” Scott County. Unfortunately, Scott County has no emergency room that allows sleeping like we do, sorry. Or, you may take the call from the crying mom with the A student at Simley High School in Inver Grove Heights. Can they head over after her child finishes the school week? It will help to not be homeless in a different city until the holidays.
It’s 2:30 am and a young woman grasping to sobriety and sleeping on the floor stops to say thank you. “No one has ever showed me this much love.” I don’t even remember her last name. I do not look forward to announcing that this emergency room is soon closing. They’re about to have one more trauma. Do you think anyone’s anxiety, depression or blood pressure will rise?