Leonard lives with Parkinson’s Disease, and though he had walked less than a mile from one of the city’s homeless shelters, each of the hundreds of steps had been exhausting.
Parkinson’s Disease robs people of control of their movements, making even a short walk a test of endurance in which Leonard might find himself suddenly frozen in place, unable to move. That was the least of his worries. Parkinson’s Disease also is notorious for causing sudden falls that might leave the sufferer bruised and battered.
These risks were compounded by distances Leonard had to travel for basic needs. He was eligible for a hot supper at the shelter where he slept, but he had to walk several blocks to another shelter or local park for breakfast or lunch.
Make no mistake, Leonard was glad to have a place to sleep and a meal or two a day, but emergency shelters are no place for someone living with Parkinson’s Disease. Because he slept in a barrack-style dormitory with bunk beds, Leonard had to be in line hours before the shelter opened to make sure he got a bottom bunk.
Come morning, he had to be out of the shelter before sunrise, carrying everything he owned.
Leonard’s situation isn’t unique. “Homeless people are unable to modify their physical environment to match their physical limitations,” researchers reported in the Seniors Housing and Care Journal in 2013. “Features of the shelter environment, such as bunk beds and shared bathing facilities, may increase the risk of falls and injury. Moreover, many shelters require clients to vacate during the day, placing already vulnerable older adults at increased risk of injuries and victimization as they walk long distances to obtain food and shelter.”
Medication would have reduced Leonard’s tremor and other symptoms, but those symptoms made access to medical care all but impossible. He couldn’t walk to a clinic and relied on social service agencies for bus passes, an increasingly scarce commodity in Fort Worth.
By the time Leonard turned to the DRC and case manager Amber Waldrop, he had difficulty standing and was unshaven. That caught Amber’s trained eye.
Amber, a former nursing home administrator, could see Leonard was struggling to cope with the activities of daily living, ADLs for short. These activities, like walking and grooming, represent things people must be able to do to live independently.
For most people, the risk of nursing home placement increases as ability to manage activities of daily living decreases. For someone who is homeless, the stakes are much higher. Elder care workers use an acronym to remember the activities of daily living—dressing, eating, ambulating (walking), toileting, and hygiene—that hints at the risk of losing these survival skills. The acronym is D.E.A.T.H.
Leonard had no time to lose. Using personal and professional contacts, Amber was able to have him admitted to a nursing home the same day.
After a month of regular meals, rest and medication, Leonard regained strength and was ready to move on to permanent housing, thanks to the woman he calls his angel.
I’d like to tell you Leonard’s story is unique, but chronic illness is all too common among people we serve at the DRC. Nearly half are age 50 and older. Researchers say geriatric conditions are now more common among homeless adults in their 50s than among average Americans 20 years older.
No one with a debilitating illness should have to live on the streets or struggle to survive in homeless shelters. If you agree, now is the time to give a gift of health and hope with a gift to the DRC.
You’ll bring people like Leonard home with every dollar.