Certainly there isn’t a soul in Ashland who would have wanted Tasha (not her real name), a 42-year-old woman with a developmentally delayed disability, to be on our streets on her own during the recent freezing nights with temperatures dipping down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
When she stumbled into the winter homeless shelter Sunday evening, she shook uncontrollably, kept nodding off like she hadn’t slept in days (and she hadn’t) and mumbled incoherently. We couldn’t make out her name so we began referring to her as “the woman in the blue coat.”
Although no one knew who she was or where she came from, even our shelter guests observed her strange behavior and expressed concern. We helped her get warm and comfortable. I put chairs around her space so guests wouldn’t trip over her in the dark when they got up to go to the bathroom.
“There’s a new woman who definitely needs help,” writes Vanessa Houk, Sunday night site coordinator, in an email Monday morning. “Blue jacket, developmentally disabled and new in town. We couldn’t understand her name. Please watch out for her. I wish I knew who could help her.” The community’s concern for Tasha was showing.
“After a few phone calls … we have a plan,” writes Heidi Parker, winter shelter volunteer coordinator. “When she shows up at the shelters … you may not be able to understand what she’s saying, but she may have some sort of ID (unfortunately, she didn’t). If it’s not the middle of the night, you could call Connie Saldana, Senior and Disability Services Planner, Rogue Valley Council of Governments (RVCOG).
"It may take time to get an agency to help her. In the meantime, she’s very vulnerable out on the street. Hopefully, we will be able to get her into a more protective environment. Thanks everyone, for watching out for her.”
As luck would have it, the women in the blue coat showed up at the winter shelter the very next night. Bob Altaras, Monday night site coordinator, writes, “There was a woman by the name of Tasha at the shelter tonight. She definitely had some disability.”
As I read these emails at 6 am Tuesday morning, since I had actually seen the woman in the blue coat on Sunday, I might be in a good position to identify her. So, I quickly changed plans and drove to the site of the Monday Presbyterian Church Shelter to be there when doors opened.
Sure enough, as I walked into the shelter, I immediately spotted the infamous “blue coat” on the floor next to someone under a slew of blankets, fast asleep and snoring.
When lights came on, signaling “wake up time,” Tasha stumbled to her feet and wobbled barefoot to the bathroom. When she returned, I noticed that she didn’t have any socks anywhere. I turned to another shelter guest and asked, “Do you know where we can get her some clean socks?”
“Absolutely,” he smiled back as he walked over to the Christmas tree, grabbed a pair of new wool socks hanging there and handed them to Tasha with a smile. She quickly put on one sock when another guest (new to Ashland) noticed that she couldn’t pull up her sock. “Can I help you?” he asked. “I used to help dress my wife when she became ill.” “Sure,” replied Tasha, grinning.
He lovingly removed the sock, rolled it up and placed it on her foot gently, then did the same with the other sock. Next, he unlaced the shoes, put them on her feet and tied the laces.
“Would you be willing to hang with us this morning?” I asked Ashland’s newest guardian angel. “I could use some help watching over Tasha in case I have to go to the bathroom, make a call or walk away to find help.” “Absolutely,” he replied, delighted to be asked.
It was heart-warming to see this shelter guest new to our community set aside his own pressing needs to help one of his peers with a greater immediate need. “This must be what God wanted me to do this morning,” he said. “Must be,” I smiled back.
Next week: Part 2.
—Phil Johncock is an award-winning author, consultant and coach. For fun, Phil enjoys making up impromptu, celebratory songs on-the-spot while playing his acoustic guitar. Contact Phil at LinkedIn.com/in/PhilJohncock or CEO@PhilJohncockNetwork.com.