A New Perspective On Elder Abuse

Occasionally I write a blog post that has little, if anything, to do with homelessness. This is one of those times. A touching story about elder abuse was brought to my attention recently and the person who told me asked me to blog about it. Though the story was moving in and of itself, the fact that this person has done much to help me in my homeless advocacy is all the more reason for me to oblige.

Several months ago, on Change.org I blogged about an elderly woman (presently 91 years old, if she hasn't passed since I saw her about 4 months ago) who became homeless at 87 due to a landlord violating her rights (http://news.change.org/stories/87-years-old-and-homeless-for-the-first-time). She then went to a shelter which caught fire and was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation. Then she went to a different shelter where she was accidentally pushed down and broke her hip. While she was in the hospital, I contacted DC Government. She has since healed as well as can be expected at her age and has been housed by DC Government. However, she walked without a walker before the accident but now uses one.

A friend told me tearfully a few days ago about a different type of elder abuse. She mentioned actor Mickey Rooney's appearance before Congress in which he detailed the different abuses -- physical, mental and financial -- perpetrated against the elderly by those who will one day walk in the same pair of shoes if they live long enough. (It's been said that prejudice against the elderly is the one we all grow out of eventually.) "But", she continued, "sometimes it's the elders that are the abusers".

She explained that the 92 year-old woman that she cares for is extremely difficult to get along with. The elder woman evidently has 2 empty bedrooms in her house that are in good condition, but demands that her live-in caretaker sleep in the room that is drafty and has no heat or air-conditioning. The elder woman is also headstrong and often refuses to take her meds. The caretaker has actually been injured while caring for her patient who doesn't carry any type of insurance or workman's comp whereby to pay for injuries that occur on the job. This friend of mine also complained about not having any privacy and explained that she was standing outside in early-March in order to tell me all of this without being heard by her employer. The formerly-homeless caretaker told me through her tears that, in some ways, being housed -- tenuously as it may be, due to the age of her employer -- is actually harder than being homeless. (Life is full of hardships; so, choose your torture and learn to live with it.)

I'm not sure which is worse, this account of abuse BY the elder or a story told to me by a former girlfriend (who was also homeless at the time). A woman who I had a short relationship with while living in Orlando, FL told me of her days working as a certified nursing assistant in a Philadelphia, PA nursing home: There was an elderly man there who used to defecate in the bed, roll his waste into balls and set it on the window sill to dry. He would then throw these fecal meatballs at her as she entered the room to care for him. She had to guard herself with a garbage can lid as she entered his room.

And so it goes, the abused have become the abusers. It stands to reason that having the strength and resilience to deal with unruly patients without getting frustrated or quitting is part of being a medical professional or geriatric specialist. Even so, we are all human and, as such, have a pain threshold. This friend has found hers. As it turns out, her "job" won't last forever. If she doesn't find work immediately after her hard boss is eulogized, she might rejoin the ranks of the homeless. Let's hope that she finds meaningful employment quickly and doesn't experience another episode of homelessness.

Finally, I'd like to point out that this story illustrates that there are homeless people who DO work. This friend's job as a caretaker enabled her to rise above her homeless circumstances. She has explained that the pay is decent and the job comes with living arrangements. However, there are many working homeless people whose jobs neither come with living arrangements nor pay enough to allow them to pay rent. Even after this friend "loses" her "job", the struggles of the homeless who receive low wages that don't enable them to pay high rents will "live" on. And I'm sure that she'll continue to help us fight the good fight to eliminate the circumstances that create and/or contribute to homelessness. Let's hope.

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