“Being homeless is not an easy thing.”
These words are so simple, yet they carry so much truth. They were said to us by a woman who has spent decades living on the street, who has been robbed and assaulted numerous times, who must exceed an alcohol breathalyzer test in order to sleep in a bed in the Emergency Room, who, despite her physical disability, still does not have housing for this coming winter.
Her case manager fears that she may freeze to death if she does not find housing soon.
Since founding the Rhode Island Medical Navigator Partnership, we have had the privilege and pleasure to get to know this woman, and so many other individuals like her in the homeless community in Providence, RI. Through RIMNP, we pair medical students longitudinally with clients who experience chronic homelessness and suffer from a high burden of medical illness. For each client, we work on an interdisciplinary team with an anchoring provider, case manager, and nursing or social work student. As their navigators, we help clients access healthcare, schedule and accompany them to medical appointments, advocate on their behalf, and coordinate care amongst multiple healthcare and social service providers.
Working as navigators throughout the past year, we have met many individuals who have expressed the desire to share their story. For some, this means narrating how and why they became homeless. For others, it means telling their life history, which is often rooted in a mixture of pain, resilience, abuse, and strength.
When we started listening to these stories, we realized that they had meaning and power beyond just our own ears. These stories humanize those who experience homelessness. For those who wanted to share their stories with a greater audience, we created the RIMNP Narrative Project. In this project, we are dedicated to listening to these stories, bearing witness to the experience of the narrator, and sharing them in the medium the individual desires. For some, this is written expression; others like to be in front of the camera. For our former radio DJ, an audio recording was his preferred medium. One woman wanted to share her story in the form of a song.
With each story, we learn more about the tremendous strength that exists within the homeless community. We urge you to listen as well, and to hear these voices that are so commonly silenced in our communities.