There has been another death among the women we serve.

She died in the last place anyone should have to: in a tent, in the cold, in the bushes.

In tears, she had once told us she didn’t want to die on the streets.

She never saw her 35th birthday.

We knew she was ill; she had told us, and it was obvious as addiction and the illnesses that often accompany it took their toll on her body. She had been in and out of the hospital over the past few months and looked absolutely miserable whenever we saw her.

She might have had a better chance if we’d been able to provide her a safe place to stay. At least she wouldn’t have had to die in a squalid camp in the oleanders.

When I met her, just about a year ago, she seemed ok, or as ok as anyone living on the streets can be. She was already ill, but was able to function, and the rampant swelling that occurred as her organs shut down hadn’t yet begun, or at least wasn’t obvious.

The painful irony is that she had been one of the most excited for Naomi’s House. Much earlier on, she told us she’d begun weaning herself off the drug that had held such control over her, so she’d be sober and ready when we were open.

But the wait turned out to be too long, and the pull of the drug too strong, and life on the streets too unbearable. We don’t know what will be listed as the cause of death, nor do we need to. It comes down to the miseries of addiction, the lack of a safe place to stay and lack of access to the help she needed, to turn her life around.

The saddest thing is that she never had an opportunity to experience the joy of finding out what her potential might be, or what a blessing she might have been, in the lives of others.

The lady who passed before her, an older woman who also struggled with addiction, wasn’t homeless, but she easily could have been. She was still “one of ours;” we had worked with her as well.

The last time I saw her, she was so ill that her skin looked almost black. She had been told she needed dialysis, but, for whatever reason, she did not go. Her doctor had sent a message to her through a relative, she said: if she didn’t begin treatment within two weeks, she would die.

And then we learned she had passed.

These deaths are sad, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is missed opportunity.

Each of us, in ways we may never know, impacts the lives of others. Even the smallest of kindnesses can inspire change, or at least hope, in another. Each of us can be an instrument for good, being in the right place, at the right time. But we can’t do that, if we are mired in addiction, or have passed from this life because of it.

Every one of us is needed; each of us has something to contribute. And every one of us comes into life with the potential to accomplish something; most of us, many things.

Neither of these women ever reached her potential during her earthly life. And in missing out on finding out what they might accomplish, they also missed out on a lot of joy, and a lot of blessings they could have had – and opportunities to bless the lives of others.

It is too late for these two women, but not for the others we serve.

Two of them are working on leaving their addictions behind, and we support them all the way.

And after many delays beyond our control, we are finally ready to open Naomi’s House, by March 1. There are women who have been waiting and are ready; eager for a safe place to stay and a kind word – and the opportunity to find out their strengths, which will lead them to great blessings, both for themselves and for those around them.

Jenifer West

Homeless Services Facilitator

Cambridge Academies

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