Western’s student nurses take on homelessness

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Western’s student nurses got a glimpse of what it’s like to be homeless at Danbury’s City Shelter on Thursday. The Community Health Nursing program exposes students to the full range of people they will encounter in healthcare. The program focuses on visiting nursing, which tackles the health of the community at large. Orientations include the City Shelter, rotations in schools, hospices, and the senior center.
nusreshlterShelter Program Coordinator, Mike Finn, began his introduction expounding the importance of treating homeless people like individuals by asking questions about how they are feeling and engaging in friendly conversation. He explained that homeless people are often ignored on the streets and treated as less than human. He then summarized his life at his dream job working for T.J.Maxx, and how it led to a more fulfilling job working at the shelter.

Finn went on to tell the story of a homeless man who Finn spent a lot of time talking to. When the man died, his sister came to Finn and told him that her brother spoke about him all the time because Finn was the only person who made him feel like a man. Finn said that’s why he makes sure everyone on his staff greets all their guests and talks to them in a friendly manner.

The students were then taken on a tour through the shelter. Finn explained the basic rules of the shelter, and precautions made to ensure no drugs or violence enter the building. He gave an overview of the services provided by the shelter to help people become independent members of society.
“Everybody ends up in hospitals whether they’re poor or rich. It’s important for us as nurses to understand where our patients are coming from, and what they have available to them, not everybody has the same things available to them,” said student Kyle O’Malley.

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“Pay it forward. You never know where you’re gonna end up. I think it’s a good idea. I think he gave a great overview of our community services, and I thought it worked well with the other agencies. It was pleasing for me,” said Assistant professor Patricia Cumella.

“I think we need to do more. Maybe just little things where you’re putting together toothbrushes, toothpaste, things that we wouldn’t normally think are that important. We should donate more or volunteer. Maybe put it around the campus how we can help,” said student Devyn Keller.

“I like how they have sort of a tiered system. First they pick up their lives, then they have an apartment that’s free, then after they’re employed they raise the rent incrementally because obviously those same resources need to go to somebody else,” said student Travis Maas.

“But I did notice that if one of the reasons you’re in the street is because you have an active substance abuse problem this isn’t gonna work out because you can’t be here.”

Danbury’s City Shelter Rehabilitates the Homeless

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Danbury’s City Shelter is more like a rehabilitation center than a place to rest one’s head. In comparison to other shelters in the area, which are solely focused on providing shelter for the night, the City Shelter offers a structured system of services to assist the process of recovering from homelessness.

According to Shelter Program Coordinator, Mike Finn, intake for the City Shelter is more extensive than other shelters. Chronically homeless people must go through the Coordinated Access Network (CAN) due to a statewide focus on getting them housed. All other applicants must get listed through 211.

 

bedsThe shelter then has its own intake, which asks for extensive background information including health history, education, work experience, criminal history, and veteran status. Finn said the purpose of the intake is to find out the strengths and weaknesses of the applicants so he can refer them to the resources necessary to improve their situation.

All shelters in the Danbury area allow a maximum amount of 30-days for time spent at a shelter. However, the City Shelter provides extensions for those who are either working, going to school or receiving help for their addiction.

The shelter coordinates with CT Works to help people find jobs and write resumes. A medical team and therapist comes to the shelter every Tuesday to offer services. MCCA offers an addiction recovery program during the weekend. Flu shots are provided during the flu season.

Other services that are extended to the homeless from other shelters include a place to stay from 9a.m. – 2 p.m., lunch held Mon-Fri at 12p.m., and showers.

“Danbury is one of the top areas in the state to serve homelessness. There are more services here than anywhere else,” said Finn.

kitchen“People are sent from 15 towns all around just to come here, and we have every service that they need. Sometimes we get too many people.”

Finn said for most of his life he was like everybody else. The only time he ever saw homeless people was when he stepped over them in Manhatten. One night he was walking down the street in Manhatten where a lot of people sleep on cardboard boxes, waiting for the breadline in the morning.

As he saw a homeless man approach, Finn turned to his brother and said, “Watch, he’s gonna ask you for money.” The man then approached Finn and said, “Do you have a spare ten dollars, I’m trying to get my swimming pool fixed?” Finn thought that was the funniest thing ever so he said, “Yes, you deserve the ten dollars.”

Finn thought about the man who had nothing, was about to sleep in a cardboard box, waiting for a bologna sandwich and a cup of coffee at six in the morning, but did not lose his sense of humor.

“I woke up that day. Everybody has some value in them. Homeless people are exactly that, people. Most people recognize them, don’t see them, don’t want to see them, don’t talk to them, go right by, and they’re like invisible to them,” said Finn.

“And that woke me up to people. From then on I would buy big bags of bagels, some with cream cheese, some with butter, and I would hand them out on the streets.”