Homeless vigil remembers those who died

'You don't go home the same'
2010-12-23T01:30:00Z Homeless vigil remembers those who diedBy SALLY ANN SHURMUR - Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

An infected facial cyst and a colonoscopy are not things one usually mentions to an absolute stranger.

Then again, neither is living in a broken-down van for four years.

"I hadn't been to a doctor in 25 years," said James Kanniard.

He celebrated his 47th birthday, and 268th day of sobriety, on Tuesday evening by attending an annual vigil for the homeless on the longest night of the year, Dec. 21, at Soldiers of the Light Church.

The event is sponsored by the church and the Health Care for the Homeless Clinic.

Kanniard says he has been an alcoholic since he was 18, and lived for 31 years in Yoder before making his way to Casper last spring, where he found rehabilitation, life out of a van, and hope. When he was sober enough, he worked as a farm and ranch hand, but he hasn't worked for a while.

Currently, he is in the discipleship program at the Central Wyoming Rescue Mission, where he receives meals and a warm bed, education and, among other things, regular medical care.

"Those ladies at the clinic do a great job," he said about the health care clinic located on the third floor in Building E at LifeSteps Campus, 1514 E. 12th St.

"I test their patience, but they have gotten me glasses, and a colonoscopy, and took care of the cyst on my face. I was broken down, and they and the mission are putting me back together."

Kanniard says the discipleship program, in which he has been enrolled for four months, can last up to a year. Classes he is taking include relapse prevention; purpose-driven life; forgiveness in Christ; and a Gospel-based, 12-step program. In addition, he works out at the YMCA to remain physically fit.

While Kanniard is making his way from bottom, he knows he is fortunate.

The primary focus of the homeless vigil is to remember clinic patients who have died within the past year.

In the year 2010, five clinic patients are known to have died -- Becky Swartz, age 41, Feb. 3; Kim Keith Schultz, age and date of death unavailable; Tony Pitmon, age 30, June 12; Tommie Masters, age 53, Sept. 25; and Douglas Bright, 48, Dec. 3.

The patients at the clinic have numbered 960 in 2010 thus far.

Rosie Cardenas has been a social worker at the health care clinic for three years. Prior to that, she worked at Community Health and the Central Wyoming Counseling Center.

"You don't go home the same. This is not a job you walk out the door and forget," Cardenas said.

Valerie Cahoon, PA-C, has been the clinic's medical director for six months.

She said the best part about her job is the patients.

"We are providing care for individuals with chronic, multiple conditions similar to anybody seeking medical care anywhere else," she said. "With the times what they are, a lot of people are like us."

Cahoon says the most frustrating thing about her job is simply the lack of resources, both financial and the limited medical specialties here.

"Many of them have underlying mental health issues and past or present substance abuse," she said of her patients.

She said homelessness comes in many forms, and extends beyond living on the riverbank or under a bridge.

"Doubling up, couch surfing, those in transitional housing, at the mission, on the streets or currently incarcerated -- we see all of them," she said.

"The patients we see are like you or I, and that's very scary," Cahoon said.

After prayer, songs by the Walking with Christ Ministries choir and a reading of the names of this year's deceased, participants walked out into the icy, dark night and held small battery candles.

The sky was crystal clear, the moon was bright and geese honked as they passed overhead. Maybe they too were looking for somewhere warm.

After a few moments of silence, those gathered quietly returned to the church's warmth, perhaps remembering those who have no options to get in from the cold.

Reach community news editor Sally Ann Shurmur at (307) 266-0520 or sallyann.shurmur@trib.com. Read Sal's blog at trib.com/dishin and follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/WYOSAS

Health Care for the Homeless Clinic

Where: Third floor, Building E, LifeSteps Campus, 1514 E. 12th St.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed noon to 1 p.m., Monday through Thursday

Phone: 235-6116

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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