When Chelsea Swift showed up to the crisis call, the man was sobbing. Swift is a counselor and emergency medical technician with Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS), a health and homelessness response service based out of White Bird Clinic in Eugene, Oregon. When the county’s residents make a 911 or a non-emergency call regarding a mental health crisis or a need for social services, Chelsea Swift may pull up with a partner in CAHOOTS’ signature van.
Today, Swift was responding to a call from a man who was experiencing homelessness, and who was interested in seeking help for drug and alcohol use. He had recently been in jail, and was released only to find that the local government had raided the encampment where he had been living. All of his possessions were gone.
Swift wished she could offer her neighbor sustainable housing, but aside from Eugene’s one emergency shelter — already beyond capacity — the city lacks free and affordable housing options. “I had nowhere to bring this person,” Swift said. There was nothing she could do but sit there with him as he cried, mourning the loss of everything he owned in the world, and offer him a tarp and a water bottle.