Tuesday, March 27, 2007

by proxy

I've talked before about J's work with the severely mentally ill. Our paths cross occasionally, more often than not when his group is at wits end with housing someone and they need a last resort.

But lately, we can't. The folks he's helping lately are too sick. Too ill to be on their own in any capacity and yet they have nowhere to go. Last night J came home and talked about a private meeting he had with some MDs at the hospital, docs who are freaked out and frustrated because they too can't help the people who need it because the requirements for inpatient have become tighter still. Simply, they can only keep folks who are assaultive or catatonic. Schizophrenia is no longer enough, Axis I out the window. They are just not sick enough. The MDs are scared, and when MD's get scared it scares me too. Doctors, see, they know things.

Shit rolls downhill. J's group is impacted with folks they really aren't designed to care for, the ones who previously would have been tucked in at the hospital. And then the ones they really want to help are unable to get into their program. Shit rolls downhill.

And then these cats end up at a shelter. You can't roll much farther than that. There are people making decisions based on money who cannot possibly ever take the time to see what is really going on outside.

It's a ticking bomb. And it scares me, because everyone's noose is getting tighter. I anticipate it getting much harder to continue doing this work, but at the same time I don't see a solution coming. People are not getting healthier. The government is not stepping up. It's a pushback to the NGO's to come up with solutions, and we can barely keep our heads above water let alone solve problems that we elect people to solve for us.

I often wonder how much NGOs contribute to the problem. We enable hospitals and providers by offering shelters and programs. We give folks an out to not fight harder for what is right. There is someplace else to put people. Even if that someplace else is absolutely wrong for the mentally ill woman who has no idea where she is, or the guy with end stage cancer sleeping on the floor.

But for how long? And much less importantly (but something I am thinking about more and more): how long can I?


slouching mom said...

Yes. Yes. Yes. It's all I can say. And it is SO depressing. Especially when I read something like I did in the Times this weekend about people wanting to define auditory hallucinations as not worthy of diagnosis if not accompanied by psychosis or psychotic depression.

I don't know about you, but everyone I have ever talked to about having auditory hallucinations finds them aversive, to say the least. Sigh.

Penny said...

Wow, Jen. You really bring all it all home to us. There are so many aspects to housing and helping the homeless that I never understood before and that I would never have thought or imagined. I pray for you, so that you might continue strong and healthy in your work. And, I'll pray for the systems you have to work with, that they'll improve enough to let you do your job.

You really are mother to a nation.

I am in love with your beautiful heart.

PS.. slouching mom - I had auditory hallucinations in 1997.. and, while I may have been functional, turning around and yelling, 'yes' everytime someone (does not) call your name gets to be psychotic enough. I am in agreement with you.

NotSoSage said...

Jen. I can't even imagine how hard it is to face the pressure that you and J face on a daily basis. We are experiencing a similar situation here and I can't imagine what it's like to try to accomodate people when the services just don't exist.

I meant to say this before, in response to another post, but I don't think I did. I remember, once, watching the news and hearing that a dog owner had been charged with "failure to provide the necessities of life". I wondered, 'Why the hell shouldn't every single fucking politician and bureaucrat who isn't busting their ass to resolve the issues related to poverty and homelessness be charged with this? Give me one good reason." I want to run a marketing campaign on that...

I hope that you find the strength to make a decision that you can live with when it comes to the point where you feel like you can't go on.

I have more to say, but I'll come back later.

Blog Antagonist said...

My sister works with severely mentally disabled adults and has for years in a group home setting. Last year, the foundation (AAL, you've probably heard of it, being in that field) that was funding their care decided they could no longer afford them. They decided to shut the home down and gave 30 days to get the residents relocated to an institution.

Now, some of these men had never known any other home but this one, and they had grown very attached to one another.

The director of the home and my sister were besides themselves with worry about what would happen to these men if they were uprooted from their warm and comfortable home and caregivers they knew and loved, to be warehoused in an institution.

The Director decided to open his own home. My sister helped him, and between the two of them they found a house, readied it for habitation by disabled people, found insurance, funding, and staff in 30 days. He also had to go to court to become the legal gaurdian of all five men or he would get no state assistance at all.

Anyway....long story short...I was so incredibly impressed and humbled by their efforts to help these men. There are people out there who care. The disability is a little different, but the story is the same, I think.

I can't imagine the stress you must experience on a daily basis. It's got to be mentally taxing and emotionally exhausting. I hope you'll find some way to make peace with your situation.

QT said...

There is so much PRIVATE wealth in our nation that this just shouldn't be happening - forget the govs. We need to come up with better incentives for the wealthy to give. There is research in my industry that says tax incentives are not even one of the top three reasons wealthy people give - they give when a cause becomes personal to them.

I think it is so easy for people to blind themselves to these issues. How can we make it more real to the people who have the power to give?

jen said...

BlogA- What an amazing story. That sort of thing is so inspiring.

Sage - I'd love to see that story in print, that is a terrific quote. Very damning.

QT - you are so right. the problem with poverty is that they are not often related to folks who have lots of cash, otherwise we'd never meet them. But yes, MH issues are across the board, i agree, the money is out there. but who's burden is it?

NotSoSage said...

It must be the definition of neglect, according to Canadian law, because upon searching it, I've found references to it everywhere in links about abuse of seniors, children and animals. I don't know why that doesn't extend to other vulnerable populations...but maybe I didn't search long enough.

Here's an example.

NotSoSage said...

Oops. The story's on page 3 of the newsletter. Beware...if you like animals, or even if you don't, it's a sad tale.

Lucia said...

I want to stand on the top of the car and yell, "Where are people supposed to go?? Where?" Once they've been shuttled and pushed and moved and no one's taken responsibility, shit rolls downhill.

Mad Hatter said...

Jen, Sage:
The woman who heads up our local homeless shelter really got into hot water with the media here lately b/c she made some kind of off the cuff remark about people caring more for animals than they do for the homelss. I watch the news. I know how many stories about puppy mills or animal neglect run here vs how many stories are featured about the homeless. This woman is damn right. She has spent 2 months now trying to manage damage control.

Redneck Mommy said...

As a parent to a child with severe mental disabilities, (my darling Bug, and my future adopted child) this story sticks in my craw like nothing else.

Thank you for banging on this drum. I'm right beside you, making as much noise as I can to draw attention to this plight.

It's shameful.

Bon said...

i don't know how long. i hope a little longer, because i - in my lurkdom - have come to believe you do something good, not just in the obvious action of your work, but in the processing we're privileged to here.

but i know i don't think that, sadly, the NGOs are really the barrier to a better system. i think even if shit were piling high all over the place, unless it were on particular doorsteps (and those doorsteps have gatekeepers) there'd be little political will. maybe if all the middle class voters (assuming that there are middle class voters) stood up and spoke with one voice, and acted. but until then...no.

i wish, though.

jen said...

Mad - WTF. It makes me want to rattle some cages this way. Did you write a LTE backing this woman?

RM - Thank you. Really.

Bon - Hey! So how do we do it? How do we rally people to get behind a cause and say "you WILL care about this" and get the gatekeepers to listen? talking about it and working with the victims of the social disease are all I've ever been able to do. You get to a point where you wonder how much more enabling you are willing to do.

Thailand Gal said...

Jen, back in a long ago incarnation, I sold insurance. (yeah..it was like another lifetime.)

One of the training phrases pounded into our heads was "drive the hearst up to the door and let 'em smell the roses."

It's a disgusting phrase, certainly, but useful in one regard.

Given this culture and the way it operates, you somehow have to manage to get people to understand that it isn't a distant problem and it's not remote. It could become personal.

Until that is understood, people will continue to distance themselves from it and make it someone else's problem.

Given the current political climate, it is unlikely that there will be a political solution.

Your job is sisyphian. There may come a time when you will need a break from it. Don't let yourself get burned out. Part of wisdom is knowing when it is time to turn it over to someone else and apply your talents elsewhere.

What do you think?



Julie Pippert said...

It really, actually is as simple as the penny rule:

Need Help, Get Help

Have Help, Offer Help

I think the bit about funding, need for limits, etc. is simply saying "We find other areas more valuable and important to us...they bring more tangible benefits."

Jen, I don't know what to say. I want to say sorry. I want to light a fire. I want it fixed.

carrie said...

So, how can we share the "penny rule" (above) with all?

It is just so sad.

Thank you for all that you do.


lildb said...

lack of funds to care for our own (our war veterans, our mentally ill, our physically ill), but plenty of money to spend on an illegal war.


p.s. how long *can* you? I wonder that about you sometimes, too, miss Jenny-pants.

you're so awesome and you assuredly don't realize it quite nearly enough.

Thailand Gal said...

lack of funds to care for our own (our war veterans, our mentally ill, our physically ill), but plenty of money to spend on an illegal war.

Valid, of course. Honestly though, do you think looking to the government for a solution is, to a degree, a abnegation of our own responsibility?

In the culture I've chosen, families take care of their own.

Why not here? (rhetorical)

Sorry, Miss Jen, for filling up your comment space. I just seem to be following this discussion today.



Laurie said...

As you know, you aren't the only one that is being overwhelmed by this very disturbing trend. My cousin has been offered a job in a different field and I think, after 18 years of working with the homeless, she is going to take it. She feels as if she is unable to make a difference for her clients and that's a very discouraging feeling.

You have to do what is right for you Jen, just like Kay has to do what is right for her.

jen said...

Chani - It's a bit of both, right. We can't abdicate responsibility but also need to expect our government to do the right thing. Lately the pushback is to NGOs to problem solve and we don't have the capacity. Or the budget. Above all, we want leadership. It's sorely lacking.

Julie/Carrie - yes. I wrestle all the time with how to have the right impact. and what that impact should be. i fall short.

Deb - friend, yes. in fact, it's a whole other post...

Laurie - I know. Peers all over feel this way. It's like bailing out a sinking liferaft full of drowning people with a thimble.

meno said...

I work at an information and referral line for people needing help in my community.

I am scared too because there are fewer and fewer places that can take people and help them. The ones that are left are full. Last week it was an 18 year old woman who needs a place to stay while she attends the last two months of high school. The shelter's are all full.

It makes that part of the job frustrating because i cannot help.

You do so much more, i cannot even imagine how you must be feeling.

radioactive girl said...

You are such a good person. I love your heart. I don't have any answers at all, just wanted to tell you that I think you are awesome for caring and struggling to try and find some answers.

Bon said...

mmm...good question, Jen (above). maybe the middle class would stand up with one voice if we weren't such a closet classist society...if issues of social justice weren't so "Othered".

hell, i think Gap is selling special red label shirts for charity - with celeb backing - and even that ain't lighting any fires. so apparently our consumerism and celebrity worship aren't the keys to reconfiguring our society...pity.

i wish i knew.

KC said...

I can't imagine how frustrating it is for you, day in, day out. I see my share of homeless veterans with psychiatric disorders. The VA actually has some good programs that, while not providing shelter, provides all-day mental health care(they stay in the shelters at night). This is not ideal but it is something.

The privately-run group homes that have taken in mentally ill people- I don't know about the quality or quantity of these.

Certainly not enough. And it's not fair that it's only a small number of individuals who are fighting the fight.

But like the voices have said, you do good. You are raising awareness. Completely inspiring. Making a difference, one person at a time.

Tabba said...

Jen - after reading this post & reading the comments, I have so much to say I feel like my head is going to explode. I feel I have - as I usually do - revert back to that girl that is screaming on the inside, but can't get the words out. If I do - you know I'll be back by. In the mean time & speaking of shit rolling downhill...read this in our local paper & how it seems (to me, anyway, but hell, who am I?) to say a lot without really saying anything but the basic need.

Tabba said...

I hear your frustration. I can't know it to the full of it's extent. But I hear it.
And the thing is there are no answers.
We have become a country that, is systematically, weeding out the "undesirables". We no longer want to care for people based on that simple fact. That they are PEOPLE. Humanity? Out the fucking window.
I found these quotes by FDR:

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little."

"True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made."

Granted, we're talking about mental illness here, BUT these quotes ring true.

My mom worked for a program for ten years that provided work for (strictly) Autistic adults. But now that program has been flooded with the mentally ill that the state no longer wants to care for OR sex offenders that....the state doesn't know what to do with. This trend is spreading.
And yet, there seem to be no answers.
And there doesn't even seem to be a dialogue about it.
And that's the thing when you have a Presidency so obsessed with (bad) foreign "policy" - their domestic policy is even worse.

As you said, it's a ticking bomb. It's a vicious cycle. And this is the beginning. Again, I can't help but to feel this is our government's version of "Natural Selection". And to think, the religious righters don't believe in evolution. Or playing God.

Thailand Gal said...

Chani - It's a bit of both, right. We can't abdicate responsibility but also need to expect our government to do the right thing. Lately the pushback is to NGOs to problem solve and we don't have the capacity. Or the budget. Above all, we want leadership. It's sorely lacking.

Wow.. I know what you are saying. Truly. I do.

I just can't help but honestly believe that a government that has shown itself to be corrupt, indifferent to poverty, completely uncaring toward anyone who doesn't fit the mold of "acceptable citizen" (iow, old - poor- not of value to the economy) can be counted on to deliver relief.

It ain't gonna happen. If you want to know how a horse will perform, look at his track record.

It speaks volumes.

At the risk of ending up with Homeland Security on my doorstep and a sedition charge, I will admit that I believe the only solution is a radical one. Fill in the blanks.

I respect what you do and I respect that you do it so well. I respect that you care as much as you do. I just hate seeing you beat your head against the proverbial brick wall.

In the end, all you can do is offer your best.



s@bd said...

oh babe.

jen said...

Tab, Amen. A-freaking-men.

urban-urchin said...

This post sent chills up my spine. Aside from the frustrating,agonizing plight of individuals who have nowhere safe to go, to be cared for in the manner that they deserve as a manner of human decency- what happens when these people are let loose on the street? While auditory hallucinations may no longer be enough to have a pyschatric stay, they are at times enough to cause an individual to behave violently. I was beaten up on the tube in London by a man who was 'told' to do it.
My husband was an orderly in a mental hospital in college. The stories he has told me, of heartbreaking disability, and straight up crazy are so painful.

I can see where you'd be burned out, I am so sorry.

Kyla said...

That's awful, jen. I think Sage and Mad are right. The general population DOES care more for animals than homeless humans. It is terribly sad.

Thailand Gal said...

One more quote to complement Tabba's:

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." -
-- Anatole France

flutter said...


first of all, you can hold on as long as your heart can. You have an amazing heart, so I don't see you backing away soon.

I feel like I need to agree with QT. I get so frustrated when I see celebrities running telethons special red shirt sales etc etc for charity. I bristle at the concept that charity has to come by way of consumerism.
You shouldn't get a commemorative fucking keychain for donating money to the homeless. That's not donating, that's buying a keychain.

It honestly never was the government that used to take care of people. It was family, church, community. Government is morally bankrupt (no matter what the party in charge) and are no more equipped to take care of people than they are to perform brain surgery.
The old addage rings true, charity starts at home. When your government is not in your pocket for every hairbrained idea that grabs some lobbyist's attention, people have more money to give, or to take care of their own so they do not have to rely so heavily on an already drowning system.

Sorry, that was a tangent. Just thinking of people, of kids, not having basic things, just so basic just tears at me like no other.

kristen said...

Unfortunately I don't see the private sector/private money getting involved until the general populace is made aware of this and I think I tend to agree with the director someone mentioned that said people care more about animals than other people, especially the homeless.

I was never more aware of the mentally ill and homeless problem than when I lived in San Francisco. I hate that this country of ours is so dog-eat-dog, get ahead at the expense of others. We have so much, I just can't get my head around how we have so many that have so little.

I hear you on your heart only being able to take so much.....I wish I had something more important to say.

Andrea said...

This is something that came up in my undergrad courses a lot, and you are very right--the government makes a cut; the non-profit/NGO sector picks up the slack, at considerably reduced costs (b/c they rely on volunteers and don't pay their workers well); the government then takes this for granted and this becomes the status quo. A lot of what NGOs and non-profits are doing *should be government work.* It happens w/ the environment, too--they cut a program for restoring certain kinds of sites, say, and then a volunteer organization picks it up instead and then it just becomes "the way things are"--that vitally important work is being done by volunteers or folks being paid peanuts.

Getting it to go the other way is so hard--the women's movement did it with domestic violence, to a point. But when I think of what they had to give up to do it, and how quickly that turned around and became unbearable (b/c governments began cutting their funding to those services, too), I'm not sure it's worth it.

Anonymous said...

Mahatma Ghandi said, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members."

kim said...

"There are people making decisions based on money who cannot possibly ever take the time to see what is really going on outside."

That is why I have given up on government-neither side ever takes the time to literally come face to face with the people behind the issue.

American politics are separate from America, herself. Our government is not representative of the people.

I know that real encounters trump political ideology every time. I have seen it happen. People do care, it just needs to be real for them.

Just a thought, but maybe it's time to use your practical experience to give a larger voice to those you serve. You mentioned in another post about using the blog community for social change.

For what it's worth, I am amazed by your ability to have a mind that grows weary, but a heart that continues to grow.

jen said...

Yes. But worse still is that the feds are charged with the mission of affordable housing, and in essence they sub it out to NGO's to do their work by way of "contracts" that are entirely bureaucratic in nature. So even before the cuts it starts.

Kim - I think about that, the blog idea, but I have no idea how to really give it teeth.

Andrea said...

That is worse. I don't think it happens this way here, although maybe I'm naive. I think here, the NGOs are in the position of applying for grants to fund the work that they do, which is by definition work that government doesn't do. The problem is that the competitive model of grant applications, the biases of bureaucrats and the desire for performance-based measurement make it difficult to get funding for the most vital work and get organizations twisting themselves into pretzels to appeal to a set of pre-determined criteria of what the program should look like. As far as I know, government work is often contracted out to the *private* sector to run with--the gov't would partner with a building corp to build new housing, for instance--but not the non-profit sector. So far.

I hope.

I don't think the answer is private donations, as others have suggested. It's too variable--you can't count on the funding, and can't make long-term programming commitments. It requires the organizations to spend too much of their time and resources fundraising, sending out mailings, selling chocolate bars, advertising, and so on--not a good use of their limited funds. And most people even when they are confronted with a problem that hits close to home would prefer to spend their money on new shoes or cable. It's hard to give it away.

When Ontario was going through the Harris Revolution cuts, which involved some pretty deep tax cuts, the government rationalized that private donations would make up the shortfall now that people had more money. It was a joke. Nothing even close to that happened. The organizations that had depended on government funding were left high and dry, many closed their doors.

jen said...

A - I think the notion of "grants" is veiled. Here HUD gets money to create affordable housing. In turn, they decide what that needs to look like, and allows for applications that fit their scope. And then they only reimburse, at best 80% of "eligible" expenses. NGOs chase the dollars and bend mission to fit, and then need to execute AND raise the difference.

I agree about private donations - it's not guaranteed, and again, it's taking the load off the people we elect. Katrina was an excellent example of private stepping up to backfill the fed spaghetti, and a year plus later, look at the gulf. It all needs leadership, and leadership means ponying up the cash.