Project Description

A patient shares his story of helping others while homeless.

James sits on the edge of the examination table in the beige triage room, looking up at the ceiling in agony. Each of his fingers wrapped in gauze, soaking in a small bucket of tepid water. Cameron, a medical assistant at Fourth Street Clinic, gently unwraps the bandaging to treat and redress James’ fingers – his skin blistered, torn and burning from frostbite.

Last Thursday, temperatures in Salt Lake City plummeted to lows of only a few degrees Fahrenheit. With temperatures lower than 20 degrees, exposed skin is vulnerable to frostbite after a matter of minutes; James has been homeless for over two and a half years.

“It’s frustrating, but I’ll get through it. I can get through anything. That’s always been one of my character traits that my mom has always spoken highly of,” says James, looking off into the distance. He received his political science degree while working for the military, and worked all over the world before coming back to the US. A nasty divorce coupled with mental illnesses caused James, who worked as a combat engineer in the Army for more than seven years, to become homeless.

“I came to Utah to get a fresh start, but it felt like everything was taken away from me. My mental illnesses brought me into depression, reclusiveness, and not wanting to be around people,” the Pitt State graduate said.

But his hope outweighs his hurt; James helps others on the street stay away from using drugs. “Sometimes you gotta make sacrifices to help people; put yourself in positions you don’t want to be in,” James says. His compassion for others helped him realize to have compassion for himself, so he started treatment for his mental health.

“I think being a good person is what is going to dig me out of this hole.”

“Fourth Street Clinic helps me with medication for my mental health. They are a really big help. I was giving up on the system, but Sean [a mental health provider at Fourth Street Clinic] saved my life. He doesn’t even know it. I had given up, and no one was willing to help, but I felt his empathy for me. Once I felt that empathy, I realized ‘I can do this!’ Even though he’s not a family member or court-ordered to help me, this man just kept it real with me, understood where I was coming from, and got me the help I needed.”

As soon as his frostbite heals, James says he’s starting a new life. “I’m ready, I’m done. Now it’s my time to shine.”

Hover over the image below to see the frostbite on James’ hands. Warning: graphic.
Fourth Street Clinic frostbite homelessness