Debra receives help with multiple health challenges after starting services at Places for People
From the Summer 2017 Perspectives Newsletter
In the summer of 2015, Debra hesitated before she walked into Places for People’s Welcome Center to inquire about services.
“I was ashamed, because I was homeless. I was kind of scared to ask for help,” Debra said.
First diagnosed with severe mental illness in her 20s, Debra, now 53, has also lived with diabetes and high blood pressure for more than a decade.
All of these health issues went untreated between 2014 and 2015. “I was homeless a year. I was in the shelter and I was on the street. It was really tough, but I did the best I could.”
Debra found refuge at laundrymats, bus stops, stores and hospitals. “It ain’t no fun outside –
summer or winter.”
“It’s cold-hearted,” Debra said. “It’s scary, too, because you don’t know who’s out there on the streets.”
In such a stressful environment, it is difficult to make healthy eating choices or maintain a
medication routine. “I couldn’t take my medications on the streets – no way.”
During her year without stable housing, Debra estimates she went to the emergency room five or six times because of “ear aches and dizzy spells and my diabetes.” The final time she was admitted to the ER, she was introduced to a member of Places for People’s outreach team through the Emergency Department Enhancement program.
During this introductory meeting in the hospital, Debra agreed to visit Places for People to begin the
process of enrolling into services.
Debra works with PfP’s OAT Team – Outreach, Assessment and Transition. The OAT Team
specializes in providing short-term stabilization community support services to people newly served by Places for People.
“She’s a joy,” OAT Team community support specialist Bethany Lyon said of Debra.
The OAT Team connected Debra to an on-site psychiatrist, and for the first time in two years she saw a primary care physician outside of an emergency room, beginning regular appointments at the Family Care Health Centers satellite site at Places for People. She re-established her benefits and moved into her own apartment in summer 2015.
“It was scary at first, because it’s so big,” Debra recalls.
Debra is now comfortable in the apartment. “It’s home,” she said.
Lyon said moving into the apartment was a “game-changer” for Debra, allowing her to focus on her improving her health.
The team works with Debra to learn more about managing her diabetes – “we taught her how to log and keep track of her numbers,” Lyon said. With a blood glucose monitor, Debra is able to measure her blood sugar level every day.
She manages her medications very well, taking up to nine pills every day. “They’re nasty, but I’m used to them now,” Debra said.
One of Debra’s primary goals the past year has been to lose weight. She works with her team and Places for People’s Health Care Home nurses to learn more about setting SMART goals and making healthier choices at the grocery store and in meal preparation.
By improving her medication compliance and losing weight, Debra has made progress managing her diabetes, and has been able to decrease her medications.
Debra’s next goal is to be more engaged in community activities. For example, she has recently started using a neighborhood senior center ride service more often to help run errands.
OAT Team Leader Catherine O’Sullivan has seen a dramatic transformation from Debra’s first day at Places for People to today. O’Sullivan remembers that when Debra started at Places for People, she was very disorganized, keeping most of her possessions and all of her medications in a plastic bag.
“She’s doing really well taking care of her life,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s probably the most change I’ve seen in one person.”
Debra credits her treatment team and the staff at Places for People for helping her regain her health and hope for the future.
“I thank God for them. I call them my angels.”
Debra’s advice to others who may find themselves on the streets is to “keep your head up.”
Today, Debra sees her first visit to Places for People in a different, more positive light than she did in the summer of 2015. Today, she calls it “brave.”