Outreach worker shares story of resuscitating man, and how he responded
Being homeless means having no lock on your door.
Tent nylon and a zipper won’t protect your belongings – the items you need to survive – from being stolen. And taking everything you own wherever you go is no solution.
That means travel isn’t always possible. Getting to services and support centres isn’t always possible.
With pandemic restrictions that have forced some organizations to shut down and others to no longer offer in-person service, even fewer people in need are able to access supports.
That's why outreach programs that meet people where they are at, like the Society for Equity, Inclusion and Advocacy’s (SEIA) Homeless Interventions Program, which is supported through United Way CNVI, are so important.
But just how important?
Life-saving, says Aimee Chalifoux. She would know.
She is SEIA’s outreach worker, and she knows what it means to save a life – the adrenaline-laced work of pressing on a person’s chest over and over until an ambulance arrives. And the sound of the man taking their first breath.
“We were down at the mall … by the casino. We were down by the water fountain,” says Aimee. “And this girl ran past us, crying and screaming for Narcan, ‘Does somebody have Narcan,’ and we had some. She grabbed the kit and ran, and we went to go and see what was going on and help. I had my cell phone and I called 911.
“Everybody was hysterical … There was about four of his friends, one of them kept trying to pick him up, and was crying and begging him to wake up and slapping him in the face. I had to calm him down and get him to step away so that we could help [his friend].
“The Narcan did not work. The reason it didn’t work is because the drugs are now cut with large amounts of benzodiazepine, which doesn’t react to Narcan. So I had no choice but to do chest compressions until an ambulance arrived,” Aimee says.
“He had no heartbeat. He was not breathing. And then the paramedics showed up, which felt like forever. He took his first breath just as they were coming up, and still wasn’t fully breathing, and then the paramedics took over.”
Aimee describes the feeling of the experience as “Nothing but pure adrenaline. I’ve been present for overdoses before, and previously I would become emotional, like, kind of cry. This time just something kicked in. Yeah, I think I was just running on full adrenaline. I don’t know, my momma bear kicked in I guess.”
Aimee and her outreach work saved that man’s life. But it’s done more than that, too. It’s accomplished something that every support worker must struggle to do: earn trust.
“Now he lights up every time I see him, and he brings people to me every time,” Aimee says.
Gaining that trust is critical, says SEIA’s executive director, Chantale Roelens. Because, without it, even as more supports for our homeless neighbours come online during the winter, a large percentage of these people will not use them.
“They just don’t trust,” she says. But Aimee’s work is starting to change that.
Her work is rarely so adrenaline-filled, though.
Often she’s helping people to connect with family members, giving out grocery cards, providing hygiene items and performing important but less exciting tasks.
“I’m helping people on the side of the road take their wet socks and shoes off, find something to dry them off with, and put dry socks and dry shoes on,” says Aimee, adding that she’s seen some really bad cases of street feet.
Ultimately, these people need housing, say Chantale and Aimee. But, as the pace of supportive and affordable housing development struggles to meet the need for it, outreach services like this are extremely important.