Mr. N.* is middle-aged. He is at an age where one laughs at one’s past life and starts to dread the inevitability of the future. Mr N. talks about the looming ‘deadline’, but with humour, and with a sardonic smile at the one certain thing that awaits us all.

© P-Y Jortay

But that doesn't seem to bother him. All he wants today is to slow down, to relax.  He is like an old warrior who has seen enough, and who just wants to enjoy what life has to offer. “Somewhere quiet,” he says, "without annoying neighbours!"

Suddenly, an apartment opens up for Mr. N.  Fantastic!  I’m raring to go, my excitement driven by my prejudices and preconceived ideas.  In my head, I imagine the scene: Mr. N. excited, euphoric almost, and absolutely ready to leave where he is now: a place that he has described as hellish. So, here it was the moment we’d been waiting for: an available apartment and a scheduled visit.

But no.  That’s not what happened at all.  Mr. N. lost his temper, verged on violence, and rebuffed our attempts to calm him.  Mr. N. did not know how to handle the news that his apartment was ready for him.  And I didn’t know how to handle his reaction – which was the opposite of what I had imagined.

So, we gave each other space, time to reflect and time to understand what was going on.

And then, it was obvious.

Mr. N.’s anger was in fact fear.  He had been waiting for so long, that he had almost stopped believing that it could happen.  The idea of living in his own home again caused him anxiety and anguish. 

It was like having to re-learn how to live.  He would have to break old habits and build new ones – like sleeping on a mattress, in a bed.  He would have the key to his own home in his pocket.  He would also be responsible for his home.  He would be alone.  He would have to leave behind the well-worn daily routine of living on the street. “This life is hell,” he said, but he would have to trade the hellish existence that he knew, for the unknown. 

Paradoxically, the insecurity of his life sleeping rough, was in a way reassuring because he knew what to expect.  Living in one’s own apartment after a life on the streets can be terrifying. Mr. N. will have to work to overcome this fear. One step at a time. Because with each small step, we are sure, Mr. N. will be closer to the place of his dreams.

Somewhere quiet, with no annoying neighbours.

 - Pierre, support worker at Infirmiers de rue/Street Nurses

(*) We make every effort to respect the privacy of our patients and our professional secrecy. Nevertheless, we want to bear witness to how they have to survive and how we work together to reintegrate them. Therefore, the names of places and people are deliberately omitted or changed and real-life situations are placed in another context. There is no direct link between the photos and the stories above.

© photo P-Y Jortay - Infirmiers de rue 2020