Fanny and Camille, nurses and founders of the Smi-Le association, wrapped in heavy winter sports jackets, gloves and hats, walk towards a man smoking a cigarette at the entrance of a shop in the city center.
Some homeless people have already spoken to the two nurses about this gentleman, who is friendly but a bit shy, complaining of open wounds on his legs. Fanny tries to approach him, despite the mask, the smile is clearly visible. The look and the voice let it show. The man reacts positively and says he knows Smi-Le, he quickly confirms the wounds and shows them in part. His gaze straightens, goes to the right and then to the left, he checks that nobody is looking at him. The embarrassment is perceived on his face. He does not want more for the moment.
Fanny and Camille don't insist and suggest an appointment at the Fountain to check his wounds and give him some much needed care. A slot is set for the next day, and the gentleman accepts a pair of warm gloves. The Smi-Le team set off again, wishing this gentleman a good day, reassured by the meeting.
Smi-Le, this name was not chosen at random. The founders of the association are proud of it. The care starts with an approach, a smile, a much needed humanity.
These two young women, nurses by training and with a diploma in community health, have been working in the sector of very precarious conditions for more than 5 years. A few humanitarian trips and a lot of professional experience, despite their young age, have forged the two caregivers to this vocation.
Smi-Le actually stands for Service Mobile Infirmier LiégEois. After several professional experiences within different structures dealing with the help of the precarious, Fanny Caprasse and Camille Delvoye decided to create their own association. For them, primary care, this field care is missing in the associative landscape.
Interested by the number of diseases and deaths, consequences of this life in the street, they decide in 2018 to set up their structure., responding to a void present in the associative fabric of Liège. Their goal is not to be an additional help but a complementary help. The field care being clearly inexistent until now. Solutions exist but are mostly aimed at the most precarious. But in this street life, things degenerate quickly, too quickly sometimes. The slide is brutal and a person in precarious situations yesterday quickly becomes a person in vital distress tomorrow. Everyone needs this access to care. The idea of Smi-Le is to create a bridge between these homeless people and the different social and medical actors of the city network.
Followed by the Venture Lab business incubator, in the fall of 2020, Fanny and Camille created the Smi-Le asbl and started the first outreach activities in December 2020.
On this Monday afternoon, the cold is still devouring, the team stops near a young man begging in a pedestrian street of the city center, polite and smiling, he is happy to see the two caregivers. He is cold and shaking. Without a glance from the passers-by, he asks for a hot meal or a coffee. But he never insists. Why be aggressive, he says to the two nurses? It would be even worse for us.
Thibaut Pirart, 32 years old, lives on the street. For the past 11 months, he has been living in the shelter of a building entrance of a rich boulevard of the city. After an eleven-year prison incarceration, Thibaut gets out, without any solution, without any contact with his family. He has no other choice but to live on the street.
Camille and Fanny laugh with him while giving him a new, warmer jacket. Jacket that he puts on quickly. His denim jacket is not enough to keep warm. The contact is created, it is a few days that Smi-Le meet Thibaut in the center. Trust is established and the two caregivers ask him about his current status. The exchange is well accepted and Thibaut wants to find a solution quickly. An appointment is made with a social worker. The Smi-Le team will make sure to remind the young man of this appointment. Camille takes note and takes a picture of the document handed to her by Thibaut before continuing the afternoon of the marauding.
The sun is very present but the wind accentuates the feeling of cold. It is not necessary to walk more than 500 meters to meet another homeless person. Sitting on the ground, at the foot of an office building, in the indifference of passers-by in a hurry to walk along this sidewalk cluttered by the streetcar works. Big construction site of the city currently. Michael Lamotte is 42 years old, this afternoon, he has a smile on his face when he sees the two caregivers. He knows that he is going to spend a moment out of time. He complains about the biting cold, tired of being invisible to passers-by. The ritual is always the same, the trust is there, Michael quickly jokes with the two young nurses. And the joke is so necessary. A smile makes them feel human. They who forget their health to provide for their primary needs. When you live on the street, eating, dressing and sleeping are more important than your own health. And this is precisely where Smi-Le is also necessary. To allow this accompaniment and to coordinate a journey made so painful by an often nebulous administration.
Despite the recent start of the association, Fanny and Camille are well known in the various shelters in the city center. When they push the door of the association La Fontaine, the welcome is spontaneous and pleasant. In this Belgian branch of the Order of Malta, a dynamic team comes to offer support to those in need. Here, they can take a shower, drink a coffee or have their laundry done. Fanny and Camille work in close collaboration with this team, and it is often here that they come to provide first aid.
Every day, they go around these reception areas to take stock, to keep this thread taut between the caregivers and the vulnerable. This is an opportunity to pass on important information and to ensure that files are properly followed up.
The day flies by, just enough time to warm up their hands and drink a hot coffee. The two young women leave. The marauding continues, the days are short.