Housing First! Really???

[Housing first – especially for the chronically homeless – is a theme in all the big plans to end homelessness. This approach, which is quite sensible, says get people into permanent housing with supportive services as the first step.]

A Willimantic story  (first posted 8.16.2014):

This is a little story about Ellen, housing, and our world as it exists. She’s an older women with serious mental problems. She gets around – with all of her belongings – on one of those wheeled walkers that also serve as a chair. She can be very difficult: yells and screams using very bad language when upset, throws things, locks herself in a bathroom for long periods of time, just generally disruptive. Who knows how long she has been homeless….

I’d guess that her basic problems mostly stem from fear, much – though certainly not all of it – brought on by her mental illness. Always afraid that someone is going to hurt her or steal from her. The only one she trusts is Jaci and to some extent Andy K. Whenever an appointment with a social service worker is set up, arrangements made to take her, she’ll disappear at the last minute. She’ll take regular meds but won’t take the psychotropic meds that would help stabilize her.

On one particularly disruptive day Jaci managed to get Ellen admitted to Natchaug. A following Probate hearing made the involuntary admission effective for a specified time. The psychiatrist treating here was excellent, a real caring person. The meds were starting to work, she was doing better.

A week ago Wednesday (Prayers of the People time) we talked about her very positive progress. Hoped that in the remaining two weeks of her involuntary stay she would meet with a social service provider to start a relationship before she could run away. The dream of course was for her to get a place to live other than the street.

Early that afternoon, family meeting time about ending, Jaci’s phone rang. Bad news. Ellen was going to be discharged by Friday. Supposedly she was going to stay with a friend – who’s name and address Ellen wouldn’t reveal. Seriously? Jaci’s pleas for realism didn’t help. A bunch of phone calls followed. The psychiatrist had some suggestions, but told Jaci she had to talk to the nurse practitioner in charge of Ellen’s treatment right away.

Jaci managed to track her number down and got the following response: Ellen knows the churches and shelters in town, being on the street is her preferred lifestyle (a very questionable judgment), and she definitely wants to be dropped off at the Soup Kitchen at lunchtime. The reality: Churches – Under the trees at the Baptist church? Behind the shrubs in the corner where the community room attaches to St. Paul’s? Shelters – NoFreeze is closed till November and the nearest open shelter is in Danielson.

Expected result: Friday about noon she gets dropped off at the Soup Kitchen, she’ll have an appointment at United Services that she won’t keep, a pocket full of meds she’ll throw away, and she’ll be sleeping in the usual doorways. That’s pretty much what happened.

I heard she looked much better on Friday but here condition was starting to deteriorate as the meds wore off. It was a brunch Sunday, and she still was better than she had been – but did manage to get into a hassle with Donnie. Wednesday: hard pouring rain, a miserable day to be on the street; pretty much back to her old self, slipped into the Community Room, locked herself into a bathroom, there was an overflow, ….assorted hassles and disruptions.

[The above words are mine and I take responsibility for them. I believe the facts are accurate but details do get blurred in memory and I will be happy to post corrections.]



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