By Tim Rumsey, MD
Today, Jan. 21, 8:05 a.m., the cold is painful. Tips of fingers freeze. The musculoskeletal system balks. The mind ices up.
That’s why I’m thinking of our neighbor Abraham.
We met in the spring of 2020. That was a warmer time for sure. He and his wife moved in at the end of our Crocus Hill block. In those days, I talked to him once or twice a week. Usually as I drove by, and we’d get in a quick “How ya doing?” Once he borrowed some macaroni and cheese and bread. Another time he asked for a large, trash bag “to clean up the place.”
Abe and his wife lived in a sagging, dirty blue tent in the scrub woods along 35E.
I got him to go to our family practice clinic at Randolph and West 7th. United Family Medicine.
A baby boy came in the fall. Mom and baby got an apartment. Abe spent some nights there, but other nights he spent in the woods.
Bottled water and Huggies passed through the driver’s side window.
In the winter of 2021, Abe was propane stoving it for cooking and heating in the dirty blue tent. We didn’t see each other again for months. Abe had been in and out of the hospital. He did not see mom and baby for a time. He couldn’t until “he took care of things.” He told me his son and wife were going to my clinic and said it was a good place.
In the last two years, there are more people living outside than ever before. Somebody holding a sign on every busy corner of the Twin Cities. Big encampments of folks at the edge of parks, along freeway entrances and in urban wooded areas. Several camps with over 50 people. What happened?
A dent has been put in the numbers of veterans experiencing homelessness.
COVID-19 hit and did a job on everybody creating less room in shelters forcing more people outside. Low-income housing shortages continued. People lost jobs. Rents exploded. Both cities passed moratoriums against breaking up encampments and camping out.
I saw Abe again two-weeks ago, sitting in the sub-zero on the curb at St. Clair and 35E. Bedraggled, no hat or gloves, head bent, holding up a sign.
I honked. He hopped over to my car, his sign dangling at his side. The drivers behind me were impatient. I waved Abe over to the passenger side and into the car.
“I’m a good man,” Abe said, “not just a drunk or druggie.” He was crying. “I need help.”
We were driving down St. Clair and I asked, “Want to go to the clinic?”
“Yes, please. I’m in so much pain.”
I got a little medical history as we headed to UFM. Injured hand. Frozen feet. Lost ID and Social Security card. No health insurance.
“The clinic can help,” I told him.
We pulled up at the front entrance. Abe got out and turned around to the open car door.
“Ask for the social worker, too,” I said.
“Thank you. A lot,” he said.
Then he handed me his corrugated cardboard sign. “This might help you some time.” Then he waved and walked into the clinic doors.
I read the sign:
Can you Please
Food & Propane
I live in a tent
Please and Thanks
God Bless You.
By Tim Rumsey, MD