Last night I heard some sad news. In fact more than sad, it was one of those moments when your stomach lurches, and you are hit by a wave of emotion that you are really not expecting. Claude had died. Those of us who live in and around Vevey may have been acquainted with him; he lived on the street. Just writing those words causes me to pause and reflect on what circumstances someone is forced into that situation. Stop and think about it as you step out of the shower and turn on your Nespresso machine, and decide what capsule to have with your bowl of granola.
Living. On. The Street. No bed, no bathroom or laundry. Maybe you have some food, maybe you don’t. No smartphone to check the weather and see if you are likely to die from hypothermia and related complications that night. We can’t comprehend this really. Sometimes our personal circumstances are less than perfect. OK they can be downright dreadful, relationships, work, family money all going pear-shaped. Sometimes all at the same time! The vast majority of people I know deal with struggles. As well as the material things we are blessed with, we have friends, family, a community, that surrounds us and pulls us up.
Do you have that living on the streets? Maybe. You see videos on YouTube of homeless folk sharing their good fortune with others when they get some cash or food. Here’s one, no idea if this is a set up or not, but it certainly brought a tear to my eye!
Anyway did Claude have that support around him? At least one good friend of mine looked out for him and occasionally bought him food – I won’t embarrass him, but his love for Claude was typical of the man. We at All Saints know a little about him, and our pastor Clive certainly did some digging and tried to help find a solution with the Swiss authorities. You see Claude took up residence in the bushes in our church car park. He wasn’t really a problem until his collection of shopping trolleys began to expand…..it does raise a bit of a sad smile to remember his corner of the car park. He wasn’t choosy, COOP, Migros, Denner, he had them all. Car parking was hazardous (OK first world problem…) By the way I am not trying to make fun of his plight, and his clear need for support and treatment. Solutions were there within the Swiss Social Services System. (So sorry, such sad alliteration) but Claude had issues with alcohol and mental health. He was a big man, and he could appear to be intimidating (though I never heard of this manifesting itself in any sort of threat) In short, he was the sort of guy that if he didn’t want to do something, persuasion might be tricky. Anyhow I am not sure how all this went down, but the bottom line is that Claude ended up back on the streets.
Could we have done more? It is pretty difficult to know. Mental health issues plus addiction equals complexity and a very messy situation. Something that needs expert care and attention, and the Vevey Commune tried. We tried. But my gut feel is that we didn’t do as much as we could. This is not criticism of any individual or organisation by the way. This brew of issues can spiral downwards, out of control and get to a point where no one knows what to do. We can all be compassionate, but it seems even professionals were at a loss to find a solution.
Claude dieds a few weeks ago. His ashes are interred at the Remembrance garden at St Martins in Vevey. A few of us will go and honour him. Let’s try and honour all the Claudes that we walk past each day.
So I will choose to remember Claude at the lakeside with his fishing rod, sunburnt, cigarette in hand. His belongings and his bottles by his side, in his shopping trolley. That seems to be where he was most at peace.