My name is Susan, and I’m an outreach worker with Open Table Nashvile. I wanted to say thank you for your support and let you know how your gifts help me do my job. The easiest way to do that is to give you an idea of what a day in my life with Open Table looks like.
On a recent day —
Irma* picked up the brochure and began fanning herself with it. After a few seconds she read the words on the front and looked at me repeating them: “I’m a survivor.” She said it again, “I’m a survivor, Susan.” “In so many ways,” I said, filling out her follow-up paperwork. Whether she couldn’t see it, couldn’t read it, or just didn’t have the patience to complete it was unknown to me. A lot of people I work with can’t read. This gets them into all manner of medical, legal, financial, and housing trouble.
The waiting room was full, and now silently engaged in our conversation. Except for a television tuned to HGTV, and us, it was quiet. We talked about who got shot at Kwik Sak a couple of weeks ago. Irma was convinced I knew the victim but didn’t know who the shooter was. “Probably about drugs,” she said.
A few minutes later, a nurse opened the waiting room door and called Irma’s name. We both got up, and the nurse stopped me going in. “Am I not allowed to go?,” I asked.
“We’ll come get you in a few minutes,” she told me.
“Don’t leave me, Susan,” Irma called over her shoulder as I returned to my seat.
“I won’t leave you, Irma,” I called back.
People in the waiting room laughed. “Comical,” I thought. Then it dawned on me that all of us probably had some variation of the same feeling of abandonment. It was nervous laughter. That’s the thing with Irma. She makes you feel your feelings. Without even trying, shows you not only who she is, but who you are. She humbles me every time we’re together.
After her appointment, I drop Irma off on Murfreesboro Pike and return two calls and a text on the drive back across town. During the trip, I stopped in the street to speak to Chainsaw* and Terry*, who frequently need all their belongings replaced. They both sleep in doorways and abandoned buildings. Desperate people steal their things all the time; sometimes people even take their shoes. They ask for underwear. I tell them I’m out, but that I have socks and other items they might need. They ask for the sleeping bag visible in my backseat. I have to tell them that it’s for someone else and that I’ll get a couple more tomorrow. They tell me they love me and wish me a “blessed day.”
The phone rings again. This time it’s a social worker, trying to get insight into one of her clients, who’s currently in the hospital. “Are you helping him with housing?,” she asks. “And how is that going?” He is facing a potential amputation, and I tell her I think he will be denied housing. I also tell her I’ll continue to try. I won’t leave him, either.
I’m driving around, searching for Tom*, not knowing this is the day he’s chosen to return to rehab. A week ago, Tom was released from rehab, 150 miles away. The story goes that he was told they didn’t have a bed for the full thirty days, but that if he would call them in a week, they’d make it happen. So he came back to Nashville for the week to spend time with the only people he knew, friends who had not been to detox. Tom spent the weekend sleeping on the ground with no coat, falling off the wagon, and hating himself.
When I find him, I offer to take Tom to the thrift store for a coat. His emotions, worn thin by fate and circumstance, overtake him once he’s in the car. When Tom is upset, he stutters and cries; the two things feed each other. There’s nothing I can do but listen and hand him napkins. The tears are streaming into his lap by
the time he gets his questions out. They’re all questions I can’t answer:
“Why are people so broken?”
“Why doesn’t anybody care about us?
“How can they just leave people out here to die?”
Tom apologizes repeatedly for being so upset and asks if he can use my phone to call the rehab. Arrangements for his return include a Greyhound bus ride the following day at 6 a.m. and someone to pick him up at his destination. It takes two hours to confirm everything. Tom’s hope is restored by this plan and a $16 thrift store coat.
My phone is still ringing. This time it’s a pre-trial release officer calling to remind me of someone’s court date. The person doesn’t have a phone. I am now tasked to find him and let him know.
At 3.30 PM, the phone rings again, and a property manager at one of the housing towers asks if I can move someone in at 10 a.m. the following morning. It’s the third time in three weeks this has happened. This manager has backed up each time, having overbooked their move-ins and choosing to skip over my guy again. If I say I can’t move him in or that’s not enough time, they’ll move on to the next person on the list. “Yes,” I say, not sure I can actually find him, “we’ll be there at 10.”
And then I got up the next morning and did all the same kinds of things again.
I’m able to do my job, because of your gifts to Open Table Nashville. Without them, I wouldn’t have sleeping bags and socks to distribute. I wouldn’t have gas in my car to take Irma to the hospital or a mobile phone for Tom to use. I ask you to make a donation to help fund another day in this life. Irma, Tom, Chainsaw, Terry, and I all thank you.
Westside Housing Navigator and Outreach Worker