More Than Just a Welcome Mat: Dr. Jessie Gaeta's Mission to Find Homes for the Homeless
With the news of the economy these days, it’s hard for us to find a reason to be hopeful of our future in this country. Many of you reading this right now may have experienced long-term unemployment or know someone who has. However, imagine what life must be like to be without a job for so long that you cannot afford to live in a home? Imagine living life without a roof over your head or not being able to enjoy a warm meal. Imagine being forced to find a comfortable spot on a concrete side-walk, hoping you’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep.
There are plenty of people today who go through such an ordeal, feeling as if they will never experience the joy of resting on a mattress. However, thanks to the work of people like Dr. Jessie Gaeta, there is a chance that some of them might be able to experience that joy.
On February 23, 2012, CBS News reported that while the economy is still slow in growth, there is a positive trend in the rate of homelessness across the country. It has been cut down nationally by 39% since 2005. Communities have been making some positive steps towards helping those who are impoverished. As a case study, CBS took a look at a program that was recently developed in the community of Quincy located in Massachusetts.
Gordon Costa is a 51 year-old resident of Quincy. Plagued by problems with alcoholism, he ended up losing his wife, two children, and a good paying job. On top of that, Gordon is a diabetic, and he had no insurance available to pay for his insulin. Life, overall, was becoming incredibly harsh for Gordon.
Dr. Gaeta was not surprised by such a factor. She had noticed that cases like Gordon’s were becoming commonplace among those who were homeless....putting certain priorities above their own well-being. Many of these cases were patients she would treat at her hospital.
Dr. Gaeta remarked: "I think that people have a really hard time prioritizing their health needs over things like figuring out where you're going to sleep that night."
Dr. Gaeta had decided a new approach was needed to tackle the problem, so in 2006 she started the Home and Healthy for Good program.
This program is supported by state funds and is run by the Massachusetts Housing Shelter Alliance.
Back in August 9, 2009, Dr. Gaeta sat down in an interview with Neal Cohen, the host of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.” She explained that the program's approach is one of a “Housing First” pilot project. In other words, it directs the attention of addressing the issue of someone being homeless by looking for a home first… “..so that housing is what's provided first, right upfront.” She explained in the interview this approach is different to more traditional housing programs in the country. Generally, these programs require you to meet a certain criteria to qualify for the program, such as a suffering from a mental condition or from a drug addiction.
Dr. Gaeta remarked in the interview that while the approach of providing a home does sound expensive, it has actually been saving quite a bit of money for both the taxpayers and the hospitals in Massachusetts.
The CBS report provides a great deal of support for these claims. Since the start of the program, homelessness in Quincy has dropped dramatically down to 63%. In addition, medical costs towards caring for these patients in hospitals and emergency rooms have gone down by two-thirds. Astonishingly, Dr. Gaeta saw positive results with the program within the first year: “…we could basically more than afford to pay for the housing.”
Dr. Gaeta had further remarked: “Basically, I was seeing that if I could write a prescription for keys to an apartment that was going to do more to improve the health of the patient sitting in front me than the prescription I can write for anything else.”
And what about Gordon? He now volunteers at Father Bill’s shelter in Quincy, which originally housed him when he was without a home. Furthermore, Dr. Gaeta’s program has enabled him to afford a 200 square-foot apartment, in which he pays only 30% towards the rent.
Nowdays we are all under stress over how we are going to be able to afford to pay for the things we have. We may find ourselves wondering why our mortgage or insurance rates have gone up. We get frustrated over having to replace a mattress that we’ve had for years and get outraged over the high prices we may see for the new ones in the stores. We may even get aggravated over having a conventional stove top because of how long it takes to clean, so we long for the day we can set aside money to afford a smooth top version.
If you are without a home, then I can assure these are the sort of things that you wish you could worry about! If you have been out of work for a long period of time, you don’t have the luxury of worrying over things like insurance, a mortgage, or even a stove because you have none of those things. Instead, you are doing what you can just to earn a buck here or there to get food in your mouth. You are stressing over job applications and trying to find ways to explain to an interviewer why you have been out of work for so long. You may have children of your own who are without clean clothes. You may be on the street trying to find a place to sleep on a bench in a park without worrying whether you will be hauled away by a police officer for loitering or worse yet killed by a desperate mugger.
Homelessness is more than just a definition of someone of who has no place to go. It’s a description of a mind that is lost, sick, and depressed. No one deserves to live like that. In some cases, these people may have been offered real help in the past and have done little if anything on their part to get their life back together. However, I would venture to say that most have had just bad luck and don’t know where to go or where to turn for help.
Dr. Gaeta’s work shows us that people who suffer from homeless need more than just counseling for drug abuse and sickness. Even if those problems are addressed, that is not a cure-all solution. A pill can subside the headache, but once that bottle runs dry, that headache is going to come back unless you have other means to take better care of yourself.
Everyone needs a place they can actually call “home.” It’s more than just offering a roof over someone’s head. It’s a means of giving someone a second chance at life, regardless of the reasons of why the person is living the way he or she is.
Gordon walked down a dark path when he let his alcoholism get out of control and it cost him so much because of that. Now he’s back on his feet and he’s living happily by becoming a productive member of our society. On top of that, he's giving his own help to the community, making sure he does what he can to help others who have suffered like he has. Isn’t that worth the effort…to give hope and love to one individual who’s lost everything just so that person can then spread that hope to others? I’d say so.
Helping to find a shelter full of warmth and happiness does so much more than just saving medical costs and taxpayer money: it saves lives. Better still, it provides an even better life and a brighter future. When you give someone a place to call home, you giving them an opportunity to believe in themselves again.
So the next time you enter your home through the front door, think very hard how much it will mean to someone to read that special message on their welcome mat: