Auckland City Mission staff give an insight into some of their patients:
Pat is a gentle, softly spoken man in his 50s, of Maori and Croatian descent. He grew up on the East Coast and, as a young child, was severely injured in a farm accident, leaving him partially deaf and with limited use of one arm. His education suffered and, although he can read, he struggles to understand letters and fill in forms. He has worked as a kitchen hand, in caregiving and gardening but has never managed full-time work. Pat has been sleeping rough on and off for the past six years. He found it difficult to maintain regular rent payments. Sometimes he eats at Auckland City Mission, sometimes he scavenges from bins. He started to drink heavily and has been in detox a couple of times.
A few years ago, he developed type 2 diabetes. Pat has had a difficult relationship with medical services in the past. He often felt judged. It is a challenge to manage regular medication when you live on the street and have nowhere to keep it safe and dry. As he developed a more trusting relationship with doctors, practice nurses and the pharmacist, Pat understood better the rationale for regular medication which is blister-packed for him. His HbA1c came down from 168 to 60. He is drinking less.
Pat has difficulty with hospital appointments. He doesn’t have an address or a phone. Like many of the clients, he can use the Auckland City Mission address. But the appointment letters are hard to understand, and sometimes he throws them away in frustration.
The next challenge is to get him secure housing. This is essential if his health and life expectancy are to improve.
Last winter, a man came to the health centre who had been rough sleeping. His back was giving him serious pain, but the emergency department had turned him away because they thought he was intoxicated. He was soaking wet when he arrived, and his face was really pale. When he took off his shirt, he had a huge abscess on his back the width of a golf ball – it was red, horribly infected and excruciatingly painful. Since he didn’t have a mirror, he thought he’d just slept wrong or strained a muscle.
Staff are able to administer IV antibiotics at the Calder centre, so they immediately cleaned the abscess and started him on a course. The drop-in centre next door found him some dry clothes and shoes, and he returned two more times that week for further treatment. By the end of the week, he had completely transformed – the wound was almost gone and he had colour in his face again.