Last night at about 1am I was sent to a report of a female in an elderly lady’s house, refusing to leave. I must admit that being a cynical type I fully expected this to be a druggie, or a con artist, taking advantage of a vulnerable member of the community.
I was taken aback a bit then on entering the house to see a smartly dressed lady in her 40′s who immediately greeted me with “nice to meet you” and held out her hand to shake mine. She introduced herself as Ellen and told me her story.
She used to live with her parents in a large house near to where she was born. Then her mum got cancer, and her dad got into debt paying for the best medical care he could. When her mum died, she was distraught. Not long later, her dad was diagnosed with cancer as well. He died not long after leaving huge debts. The house was sold to pay off the debts paid, leaving Ellen with nowhere to live.
She struggled for a little while before, in a cruel twist of fate, being diagnosed with cancer herself. Cue months spent in and out of hospital being treated. In the meantime, she was trying to find somewhere to live but the council told her she wasn’t eligible because she wasn’t old, wasn’t infirm, and wasn’t pregnant. They told her she’d be at no more risk on the streets than anybody else.
Last night she was discharged from hospital straight onto the streets, again. Because of her treatment, any nick, cut or graze that gets infected could cause her serious illness. She had spent several hours visiting churches asking for help to no avail. She had eventually seen the elderly lady in her living room and knocked on the window to ask for help.
I spent about an hour making calls to refuges, hostels and finally to social services. Nobody was able to help. All suggested she contacted the council during working hours.
I wasn’t willing to turf this lady back out onto the street, so she ended up sleeping on the floor in one of our interview rooms, having dined like royalty on a custody microwave meal and a cup of tea flavoured water. She was desperately grateful, embarrassingly so.
But this isn’t a solution, it’s just a sticking plaster. Tomorrow she will be back out on the streets, with the system apparently unwilling to help her while she gradually loses hope, faith and the will to live. The danger of her being a victim of crime, or turning to crime, is increasing every day. And there’s nothing I can do about it.
I joined the job to help people, and maybe to make the world a slightly better place. Today I feel like I failed in that.