David was the first patient to arrive in the Medical Respite unit at Catholic Charities’ Higher Ground Saint Paul when it opened early this year.
The 38-year-old arrived with just the clothes on his back after being released from Regions Hospital with severe frostbite on both feet. Walking is not possible now; his arms now provide the fuel to get around by wheelchair.
“I’ve been blessed. There’s no way I could stay in a shelter right now,” David said.
In the Medical Respite unit at Higher Ground Saint Paul, David has a place where he can concentrate on healing his body and rest in a safe environment while accessing medical care. The Medical Respite program provides nurse care coordination, medication assistance, and behavioral health services to support clients in stabilizing both their health and increasing self-management and health literacy skills.
Clients experiencing emotional stress and grief as a result of their health conditions are provided with emotional support, as well as having someone to process life choices, obstacles, and experiences that have led to homelessness and support them in identifying hope and solutions.
David also was able to get two changes of clothes while staying at Higher Ground Saint Paul.
“Everything I’m wearing, Catholic Charities gave to me. I’m super grateful for all of that,” he said. “I feel very taken care of and it’s profound.”
Every day he wheels over to Dorothy Day Center for his meals, his feet covered with foot protectors sewn by his mom to avoid further damage on cold winter days.
He spends most of his time reading books and enjoying the sunshine that fills his room each day.
Coming to Higher Ground Saint Paul has helped David improve his outlook on life and has given him reason to believe in better possibilities.
“I feel really supported by the people here,” he said. “Everyone here is great and it seems like they really care. I’m very grateful for everything.”
David’s journey to Higher Ground Saint Paul started on a cold January night when he fell asleep under a bridge. With no place else to go, nobody to call, no money in his wallet, and no transportation to a safe place, he was simply trying to get through the night.
Recently out of treatment for alcohol addiction, David had a job as a framer and was renting a room in a home, with the agreement he would pay rent after he got his first check. But the deal soiled and David was asked to leave.
With no shelters nearby, and feeling hopeless, David went to the liquor store, bought some vodka and headed for that bridge.
Wearing LaCrosse boots with wool liners, his feet were warm. When he lit a fire under the bridge it was downright toasty, or as toasty as a man can be when trying to get through a January night under a bridge.
When a man came by and told him fires weren’t allowed, David put it out. It didn’t seem bad, his feet were sweaty to start with, after all.
“Throughout the night I kept standing up and doing jumping jacks,” he said. “I could tell my feet were getting numb, but I didn’t think they were getting frost bit.”
By morning, his feet were swollen and red. They would eventually turn black. He went to the hospital in River Falls but was transferred to the burn unit at Regions Hospital in downtown Saint Paul.
David recently learned he will lose all of his toes on his right foot and part of his foot. His left isn’t in quite as bad shape, but he will lose some toes.
After the surgery, David will return to Higher Ground Saint Paul to recover from the surgery and start planning the next steps in his life: job training for work he could do with his new mobility limitations and work to retain sobriety.
David has been battling alcoholism since he first went to treatment at age 16, although he was sober for more than a decade and has a wife and three children.
“I’ve lost everything several times over since then. Right now, I don’t even want to drink. I just want to move forward. I can’t keep drinking. It’s tantamount to suicide,” he said.
Despite a challenging past, David is working to look to the future. “During that time in my life where I was sober I had a wonderful life,” he said. “I’m not hopeless about it. I know I can get up again from here and I will.”