Serving with Heart—at Heartland Health Outreach (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, April 18, 2014

BK one kind word

Serving with Heart—at Heartland Health Outreach (Feature Friday!)

Helping the homeless—going out on the streets. That’s what Heartland Alliance does in Chicago. Heartland mixes service to the poorest of the poor, the homeless among us, with connection and caring.

This agency tries to bring a human rights component to their work with those in poverty. Heartland has a several-pronged approach to their efforts among the homeless, and offers people the opportunity to improve their lives and conditions, and to break the painful cycle of poverty. The volunteers and workers at Heartland try to offer housing, healthcare, jobs and justice to the homeless and down-and-out people.

I’d like to focus on one particular work of the Heartland Alliance: the Health Outreach. I talked today with Rachel, a registered nurse who went out with the groups quite a number of times. Her task was to reach out to the homeless in Chicago, several years ago. She had one major hurdle already taken care of She was not hesitant to go out on the streets. As she said, “I’m not afraid. Cautious, yes. Afraid, no.”

Heartland Alliance believes that health care is a human right. That is why the Health Outreach tries so diligently to reach out to the homeless, recent and illegal immigrants, refugees, people with mental issues, and issues with substance use.

Just hearing Rachel talk about her work with Heartland Health Outreach was moving and heart-rending. She came into regular contact with “Stanley.” (not his real name) Stanley was an older man, very intelligent and literate, but insistent about remaining homeless. (Common newspaper reading for Stanley were the New York Times and the Guardian.) However, Stanley’s self-care was much less than adequate.

Rachel and the other workers at the Health Outreach finally convinced Stanley to come to one of their clinics where they were able to clean him up. They cut his straggly beard and matted hair, washed him thoroughly, and—especially—got him to take off his boots. (The boots had been on his feet for approximately one year. Imagine what the state of his feet were, inside. Rachel told me, in graphic detail, what was under the clothing and inside the boots.)

She talked about a shy, disturbed woman, “Anna.” (not her real name) Anna had serious issues with trust and control. The workers finally gained her trust enough to get a little of her background, her story. Horrific details came out. People from the Health Outreach were able to get Anna to go to a hospital emergency room and let them know about some of the physical things that had been happening.

So sad, yet longing to be back, Rachel told me of the toll her work took on her, personally. She would be intensely moved, and need to think about the people she met, for some time afterwards. Unwind after the difficult times of work. Or I should say, ministry. Rachel is a woman of faith. Even though the Heartland Alliance is a secular organization, many people who work or volunteer there are also people of faith. They actively work for the betterment of treatment for the homeless. For those who do not have enough. For those who need health or dental care.

What did Jesus tell His disciples to do, on that Maundy Thursday evening?   “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” Just so, Heartland Alliance and Heartland Health Outreach are following in Jesus’ footsteps. May we do the same, and intentionally pray and seek out opportunities of service.


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