Soldiers of Compassion – Walking into the Trenches of Despair
While visiting with one of our elected officials, I was recently asked the question, “With all of the people you are seeing who are coming to the Topeka Rescue Mission as well as those you are finding who are un-sheltered and living outdoors, are you surprised?”
Honestly, I was more surprised that he actually asked the question. With the erosion of essential services for those who are in need within our nation, state and community, no I am not surprised at all that the need is increasing. I cited to him an example from when the reform in mental health began in Kansas in the mid-1980s. At that time, we began a dramatic shift from institutionalized mental health services to community-based support services.
While this was a good idea for some people, one size does not fit all. The unintended consequences that resulted were that not as many people were helped as was hoped and funding became inadequate for the work that was needed. Taking a model that is not sufficient to address the needed issues and then taking a short fall in allocated monies and stretching what is available out across the other arenas of substance abuse, education programs, employment, etc. will obviously lead to an increase of unmet needs in our community. In short, I believe that it is a result of the intended or unintended actions along the social service delivery system combined with the breakdown of our social fabric that has contributed to higher rates of poverty and homelessness.
The Topeka Rescue Mission has had a great working relationship with numerous agencies in the community for many years now. We collaborate with over 40 different groups and agencies in regards to helping individuals who are poor in the areas of health, mental health, education, food distribution, housing and other individualized areas of need. One particular organization that we partner with is the Marian Clinic who provides a wide range of health care services, including medical, dental, medications, women’s health care, mental health care, and case management services to uninsured and low income individuals from our community.
The second time I met the new Director of the Marian Clinic, Karily Taylor, was at a scheduled meeting we had at the Rescue Mission to discuss the collaboration between our two organizations. Just a few minutes into our conversation, I received a text message from Operation Street Reach Director, Justyn Hosman. He shared that he was currently working with an individual who was highly intoxicated, living outdoors, and appeared to suffer from some type of mental illness. However, the most pressing concern, which was the purpose of his text, was to inform me that this man was also suffering from severe frostbite to both of his feet. Justyn had already been in contact with the Topeka Police Department (TPD) who we collaborate with on a frequent basis. Justyn was contacting me because this individual was refusing any type of help for his apparent medical condition. As I was reading this text message, I relayed the situation to Karily. She quickly asked if there was a possibility for us to receive a picture of the severity of the frostbite. Due to the technology we had, Justyn was able to immediately take a picture of the frostbite condition of this man’s feet and email it to me. I then emailed it to Karily who, after seeing the reality of the situation, immediately called and emailed the photo to Dr. Ryan McCalla of Advanced Foot Care.
During this quick exchange of information, Captain Tom Glor with the TPD, Justyn Hosman with the Mission’s Operation Street Reach, and two individuals from the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) Adult Protective Services came into the Mission to visit with me and Karily about the situation at hand. During our meeting, Dr. McCalla was on speaker phone looking at a picture of the man’s feet on his computer. In doing so, he was able to diagnosis the severity of the situation and highly recommended that we intervene as quickly as possible because this was in fact a life threatening situation. The information given was exactly what was needed for the team to return to the campsite with Justyn to perform emergency medical intervention.
The man was taken to the local hospital where he stayed for approximately two weeks. Unfortunately, it was too late for his feet to be completely salvaged and he ended up having part of one foot and the toes of another amputated. However, while some toes may have been lost, a life was spared.
The medical team had relayed to Justyn that without intervention, the man would have only had approximately 24-hours to live because of the already developed septic infection that was close to hitting his heart. Once this occurred, death was inevitable.
As a result of agencies and ministries willing to step outside of the box and reach out to a person in need, this life was spared. While he ended up returning to the streets after being discharged from the hospital, we still recognize the value and significance of his life to this world. There is not one person on this earth that the Lord has given up on and it is our prayer that we will mirror that same attitude, always doing our best to help those who are placed before us.