As one of my good friends turned 50 this year, she celebrated this occasion by logging nearly 550miles trekking El Camino in Spain. My friend is in the prime of her life-- enjoying travelling the world, running her own editing business, and giving back to the community in many ways as a volunteer.
In sharp contrast to her story, my 50 year old formerly homeless friend who passed away a few days ago was not the picture of health. When I met him, roughly five years ago, he was living in an abandoned house down the street from my urban office. He was squatting in his family home that was foreclosed following his job loss and ensuing debt. J was a college graduate, an intelligent man, but a combination of substance abuse and failing health caused his bout of homelessness. Unfortunately, hard living in addition to a chronic heart condition caught up to him and ended his life early. J was a Trusted Mentors mentee.
A partnering agency case manager once commented, “We work with society’s cast-aways.” In reality, many of our mentees have been rejected by society, abandoned by family, and burned bridges with friends and colleagues. Many others, by deciding to “live life differently,” have walked away from friends or connections who supported their addictions or lives of crime. Either way, the formerly/ homeless and re-entry populations are at high risk of loneliness and isolation. Fortunately for J, his Trusted Mentor was able to build a quality relationship with J during the final years of his life. Still, J died alone.
One elderly mentee who is a PIH resident comes to mind as I think about our aging homeless population. Beth is in her seventies and lives alone at Partners in Housing. She has no family connections as she’s divorced and never had children. Her agency case manager referred her to Trusted Mentors because Beth (not real name) “desires companionship.” At this stage in her life, she has no lofty goals involving education or career: she simply wants to experience some enjoyment in her life and is in need of a friend. I relish reading the reports from her mentor who shares stories of outings that the two of them enjoy together. Beth raves about the joy she shares with her mentor as they participate in community events and re-engage in hobbies (Beth is a retired artist and loves First Fridays!). I know that Beth’s mentor is adding quality to her life, during her final years.
The isolation and loneliness that plague the formerly homeless aging population can be detrimental. Loneliness may increase the risk of death among the elderly, but the health effects of social isolation may be greater than those of loneliness, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Maintaining social contacts and reducing isolation are particularly important as we think of quality of life and future longevity.
At Trusted Mentors, we like to say that we mentor from “cradle to grave” as many of our young adult mentees are parents. The impact that our mentors have on their lives trickles down to their children. On the other side of the spectrum, please consider mentoring an older adult with Trusted Mentors. The joy and enriching value our mentors receive from their relationships with their mentees is life-changing. If you are interested, please contact us through our website at www.trustedmentors.org or by calling our offices at 317-985-5041.