Vulnerable. They are a "vulnerable population" and that is why we serve them. Why are they vulnerable, you ask? They are poor. They are mostly people of color. Many of them do not speak English, or speak very little. They suffer inordinately from chronic illness. What illnesses? HIV/AIDS, addiction, Hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, gastrointestinal illnesses, autoimmune disorders, chronic pain, mental illness.
The vulnerable often live on the fringes of society. They live in public housing projects plagued by poor sanitation, roach infestation, vermin, poor maintenance, shoddy and outdated construction. High-rise apartment buildings with only one elevator which consistently breaks down are the norm. Poor security is de rigeur. Litter and trash are ubiquitous. Drugs and guns flow in the streets. Violence is accepted as a part of life. Apathy can be contagious.
When one feels disenfranchised by the society, one learns to value one's environment and surroundings less. One also may begin to value even one's self less, as well. Elders are abandoned to poverty. Children are left behind by a school system in shambles. Agencies serving the poor become corrupt at the core, bleeding the funds away from their intended recipients, filling instead the bellies of the prosperous. Young men are carted off to jail by the score, while their pregnant young girlfriends quit school and lose their drive to succeed and escape the cycle.
We see it every day. We wrestle with it. We cajole our patients into action, into self-determination and responsibility, health and self-care. Well-being. Being well. We want them to be well. To be more than well.
They are vulnerable, and we seek to empower and protect them. To heal them. To help them heal themselves. The healing is done not only on a personal level. Healing takes community, partnership, a certain level of "buy-in" by a critical mass of the population. Many hands make light work, and we consistently reach out for hands wherever they are proffered. We join hands across this troubled city and seek any path which may lead towards elevation and growth, upward movement, empowerment, healing.
Vulnerable. Yes, they are vulnerable. And we reach out our hands. Again. And again.