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Think About What to Give this Holiday Season - Give Help.

Article submitted by the Staff at Seniors Resource Guide.

This article is about Senior Support Services located in Denver, Colorado. Senior Support Services helps some of the most at risk and lowest income seniors in the Denver metro area many of whom are homeless. Visit their website www.seniorsupportservices.org. Donations are accepted through the website.

Denver, Colorado - Are you thinking about what to give this holiday season? Think about making a difference in some of our nation’s most vulnerable seniors’ lives – Give Help – either financial, supplies or time.

It is not an easy or pleasant topic to talk about homeless seniors. Every city has them and every city has a few non-profits that serve this most vulnerable population.

In Denver we are highlighting Senior Support Services (SSS). This group was established in Denver in 1976 when six churches in downtown Denver came together to assist low-income and homeless seniors who were being displaced by downtown redevelopment. As the need grew, their services expanded. In 1979, they began to provide day shelter, coffee, one hot meal per day and case management services to assist these at risk seniors in obtaining benefits and finding affordable housing. In 1995, Senior Support Services bought a building at 18th Avenue and Emerson Street where a full range of services could be provided for hungry and homeless seniors.

The mission of Senior Support Services is to make each day better and safer for Denver’s low-income and homeless seniors by providing the resources and support they need to lead more self-sufficient and fulfilling lives.

You can visit the Senior Support Services website to watch videos to learn more about the organization and the seniors they serve however below is the story of one of their ‘members.’ And yes, the seniors they serve are ‘members’ of the Senior Support Service organization. Think of the respect that conveys to these elders. Here is the story of one of their ‘members’ Paul (not his real name). This is written by a Senior Support Services employee:

Not too long ago a gentleman and member of Senior Support Services started bantering with me in a lighthearted but intellectual way. From the start I knew he was intelligent and complicated. He was an avid reader; spending hours huddled into some book he had found in the trash. He liked to spar with words, a tennis match of sorts, always speaking over my head. He wasn’t arrogant, just smart and did not like small talk. Each day he greeted me with a comic or factual comment, speaking in code as if we had secrets. We would smile. Off to my office to pay bills. He would spend his day reading or looking for an intellectual equal to chat with.

Paul (not his real name) was a veteran from the Vietnam War and clearly was wounded. Not so much on the outside but his scars ran deep on the inside. It wasn’t anything he said, he was jovial, but a sixth sense told me he was impaled with a sadness most of us could never imagine.

A year or so went by and I watched him walk past the conference room windows. He was slower than usual and looked yellow and thin. I went back to what I was doing so I could get out a little early to pick up my daughter. At 4:45 pm I did my usual routine of creating one pile of undone duties, locked the window, shut off the lights and locked my office door. Driving away I saw Paul, he was sitting on a planter hunched over. I rolled my window down and said are you ok. He said yes and waved me off. I circled the block and told him to get in the car. The smell was horrific and he looked like life was ebbing from every limb in his body. He said he was fine that he had been to the VA. I told him he was lying. He chuckled. He did not expand any further. When we arrived at the apartment complex he said he would tell me later what ailed him. He slowly opened the door and eased his way up to a standing position, “Thanks Molly “he said and he turned and walked to his door and disappeared.

I looked down at my car seat and it was covered in green feces. I rolled all the windows down and took a deep breath out the window facing the sun.

My tolerance for some odors had decreased considerably within the last year. I drove as fast as was legal to the nearest car wash. Apologized over and over to the young man who graciously nodded when I told him what was on the seat.

That night I worried about Paul. I knew he was dying, he knew he was dying; it is true we all die but the sting of his reality was different. This was Different … because he was alone. Different … because he was unused brilliance. Different … because he fought a war he did not choose, leaving him shattered. Different … because very few people understood him. Different, because no one, not a dog or cat should die the way he would die.

A few days passed and I did not see him. I called his phone but no one answered. I called the manager of his building and she stated she had not seen him. I told her who I was and could we do a well check on him?

“Yes” she said.

I walked downtown to his building. Not bad for being low income housing, clean enough. The manager and I went to his door and knocked. Nothing. Knocked again. Nothing. On the third knock I heard his voice say just a minute. Paul answered the door in nothing but a towel around his waist. He was jaundiced, his stomach was distended, and Auschwitz thin and he was embarrassed. Sorry, I explained, I was worried. He said come in and I did.

His one room apartment was bare with the exception of hundreds of books on the floor, an American Flag and picture I had taken of him on the wall and one hard back chair. It had not been cleaned in months or years I could not tell. He offered his only chair but I said I could not stay long. He sat. He tried to chuckle at the circumstances but reality didn’t let him. I am dying was all he said. I asked what I could bring him. Not a thing, he said. I looked in his refrigerator, zilch, nothing, nada not even a rotten piece of anything.

The next day I brought sheets, yogurt, juice, pudding, and popsicles. I knew he would not eat any of it but it made me feel better. Later that day he went to the hospital. They couldn’t keep him they told me, and the VA was full. Our day center manager called a hospice who said they could be there to set him up by seven that evening. Again, there were no rooms available at the hospice. The hospital agreed to transport him by eight that evening. Ok I thought he can be surrounded by what is familiar and he will have company by his side.

Being a Friday night I had plans to go out with a friend. I called to say I would need to make it later; he seemed annoyed but said ok. I waited and I waited. At 10 that evening the hospice showed, by 10:30 the ambulance came. Paul looked at me, said nothing, tears falling down his cheeks. The hospice nurse told me to go and she would take care of things. I went over to Paul and stroked his forehead. You will be ok, I will see you in the morning, I said. You promise? He asked.

I promise.

I left my house about 9 am the next morning. When I arrived I was mortified. His door was ajar, and no nurse. I looked around the corner; he lay in a contorted position with his head wedged between the wall and the mattress. He was naked, a large tumor the size of a cantaloupe lay between his hip bones, but he was breathing. I moved him the best I could and called hospice. I was so angry; this was a crime of pure neglect.

The hospice nurses finally arrived. I was trying to get Paul’s feet un-wedged from the hospital bed. He was weeping a mixture of water and blood from his calves, his eyes unfocused and rolling into the back of his head. I lifted his head to put it on a dirty pillow I had found in a closet. I stroked his forehead and a woman behind me yelled “Don’t touch him”! I ignored her raspy voice; this was not a leper or dirty trash. Again she yelled “Don’t touch him”. “Put on gloves”!

I turned to meet her face. My wrath was building … I wanted to scream, “You should have done your job!” Nothing I could have said equaled my anger and disgust.

I watched the stretcher take my friend away. I knew I would never see him again. He died later that evening; they told me a nurse stayed with him until the end, somehow that did not make me feel better.

Give Help.

If only this was one story, in one city in the U.S. but it is not. We must as a nation, comprised of caring human beings reach out to organizations like this one that serve this vulnerable demographic – homeless seniors. If you are in Denver look at Senior Support Services. If you are in another city use a search engine and search on homeless seniors and ask others about what organizations are serving the poorest of the poor homeless seniors in your area.

Help as you can with money, donations and time. Senior Support services has a list of items they need such as depends, hats, gloves, sleeping bags, boots and other items. They have a page set up with amazon.com where you can purchase specific items for their ‘members.’

Organizations like Senior Support Services also need funds to operate. Visit Senior Support Services on their website www.seniorsupportservices.org. The group has a blog from 2009 when there funding was cut by the government. One of their staff members vowed to live a homeless lifestyle until the funding was restored. The funding was restored eventually. Here is a link to the blog - http://tedshomelessstrike.blogspot.com/.

Posted November 2012 on www.SeniorsResourceGuide.com