Our guest blogger today is George Miller, MSHA, FACHE, CEO of CommUnityCare Federally Qualified Health Centers in Austin, TX. CommUnityCare, which served 4,000 homeless people last year, operates a clinic inside a homeless shelter and regularly dispatches a medical team to areas where homeless people are located to provide acute healthcare services.
At CommUnityCare we take care of the poor and vulnerable populations including the homeless. To better understand their experiences and challenges, I lived on the streets for 24 hours. I am a man who is not often at a loss for words, but it is difficult to find the right words to convey all feelings of humility that arose from this experience. However, I will try in the most humble way that I can, to share my experience.
My plan was to pan handle for money with nothing more than $9.00 in cash. I did pack a few things such as 2 bottles of water, juice and almonds in addition to my cell phone for safety reasons. The first three hours went well, I thought. I collected $6.00 and felt a sense of accomplishment. However, not everyone was as happy as me. One gentleman decided that I did not belong, screamed threats of bodily harm. Moving up the road to get some distance did not reduce his aggression, so I decided that the safest thing for me to do was to leave the area.
The first three hours, I experienced a roller coaster of emotions. I felt threatened, even jealousy and anger when others took my pan-handling spot. Then another human emotion took over–blame. It must be them, the people not stopping to give money, they must be wrong, don’t they know who I am even though here I was on the streets, pretending to be homeless? Then came shame and disappointment. I was supposed to get a glimpse of how homeless people live, and yet I was bringing the competitive work place emotions to my experience. How silly was I to think that, who am I trying to beat—who was keeping score? The reality is that no one wants to be there. Life has been a challenge for them, too. I changed my attitude.
My purpose was to smile and wave at every person who passed me and if they had their window down, wish them a “Happy Mother’s Day.” Things began to turn around. I learned that human interaction, such as a smile, eye contact, a wave, and wishing someone a good day are 100 percent more valuable than money.
As the sun was going down, I knew I had to find a place to sleep. I walked the streets for a while and decided to go to a restaurant and reflect on my experiences. Around 11:00 pm, I went to a nearby church and slept in the jungle gym. It was safe and off the beaten path. I heard every sound imaginable: people, any animals, sirens, etc. While trying to sleep I thought of the challenges our community members face living in such a difficult and often hopeless circumstances. I’m grateful and blessed that CommUnityCare can provide them with care.
I am also thankful and appreciative of people who were kind, who smiled, waved, gave money or offered to help. My faith in my fellow men and women remains strong. I am blessed to work with an amazing team of incredibly devoted and dedicated professionals who make a difference in the lives of the patients and families we are privileged to serve.