Wednesday, July 29

Reflections on the House of Charity: Death on the Street

A life on the streets is not typically a long life. Diets consisting largely of day-old doughnuts and other expired foodstuffs from supermarkets, severely limited access to health care and prevalent substance abuse on all levels are not exactly practices conducive to good health. And that's not mentioning the frequent violence.

Of course clients of the House of Charity died, five during my tenure. In accordance with papers I signed before working there, I cannot reveal their full names, but I would like to list their first names here lest they be forgotten entirely. Vickie. Sarge. Albion. Mary. Eddie.

I believe Vickie was the victim of abuse. In the weeks leading up to her death, every time she came in, it seemed as though she was sporting a new bruise or had her arm set in a sling.

A writer for The Inlander covered Sarge's memorial and final days.

I liked Albion. He was a quiet man but respectful and caused no problems. I think I worked the night he died of exposure. I can't remember whether he had come in for a bed, whether we had turned him away when all were claimed.

I attended Mary's memorial service. The director of the House asked me to attend since the rest of the staff was participating in training, but he still wanted someone to represent us. It was held at Women's Hearth, one of Spokane's day shelters for women. It was heartfelt. The friend who delivered the eulogy fought tears the entire time. When the microphone was opened to all who wanted to share a memory, one woman admitted that she had never known Mary but was moved by the many who did come forward and by what they said.

I remember the last time I saw Eddie. He was drinking a beer across the street from House of Charity, and I had to ban him for breaking our rule against alcohol on the premise. He was dead less than two weeks later. Massive internal bleeding. I remember the first time I saw Eddie, too. He had an itch on his back and leaned against a column near the House's front door, going up and down it like a bear, a comparison only more apt because of the fully beard he was wearing at the time.

I have been fortunate in my life in regard to a lot of things, death among them. Only rarely has it come upon my family and friends, rarely have I had to grieve. How, then, do I deal with this? How am I supposed to feel? None of them were old, the oldest in their fifties, though all looked far older. Probably none of them went how they would have liked.

Should it bother me that their deaths did not impact me more, that I heard about their sufferings and ends and was able to keep working? Of course people die all the time, and I don't care a whit for them. I can, after all, see the obituary page and not burst into tears. Still I feel as though it should have been different with Vickie, Sarge, Albion, Mary and Eddie. As so many of the clients are estranged from their own relations, the staff of the House of Charity becomes a sort of family for those who spend time there. If I can't care for their deaths, who will? This is more than a little arrogant of me. The services for Sarge, Mary and Eddie were more than well attended. Sarge's daughter visited him in his hospital. Eddie had his own family in Spokane. There were plenty to mourn for them. But what about Vickie and Albion? I don't even think any memorials were held for them.

I don't know what I should have done, but I hope these memories mean something, maybe recall experiences for the others who also knew them.

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