mistakes were made

About seven years ago we opened a state of the art program for homeless families. The facility combined apartments and a community center; services and housing in a gorgeous setting. It was the first time I'd had the lead on opening a facility. There was a team of us, all young, idealistic, and extremely dedicated. Those of us who are still left remember that time as the golden age. And it was. Extraordinarily good work happened during those years.

But that doesn't mean we didn't make mistakes. Some of the units were subsidized by the county, they would refer hard to place folks to us and they could stay for several years. D came to us via that program, her very severe mental illness had through medication, transformed her from an incoherent street person to a competent, albeit quirky woman. And she'd just had a baby, fathered on the street. Her pregnancy was the catalyst, months of care had helped her regain what she'd lost. The county had invested a lot of time with her, they were very proud of her stabilization and felt this was the next step, as living on her own with her child was not yet a comfortable option.

For a couple of years it worked. D, as with many other long timers became part of our fabric and we became an extended village for their children. We'd often be working at our desks with children in our laps, under our feet. Snacks offered, breaks taken to color pictures or play a game of chase. It was always, always chaotic in the best sort of way.

We started noticing changes in D. Her affect was becoming more volatile, her eyes lost their clarity. And by then her son was a toddler; 0ur concerns for him on the rise. We appealed to the county, who refused to intervene until she'd fully decompensated. We called for welfare checks, both from the county and the police, desperate for someone to declare her holdable. No one would. D had been around this block before and she'd perform magnificently in front of them and they'd leave blaming us for wasting their time. This is all too common, we'd made many welfare calls during those years for different reasons, and already knew that only 11% of calls actually turned into open cases. The system was already too full.

Things continued to decline, and worse, D had lost trust in us, bringing in the outsiders increased her paranoia. She withdrew, her visits to the office less and less common. We were increasingly scared for her son, and we had gotten the message loud and clear from the county: we were on our own in this until she fit the criteria for a hold (demonstrated in front of them as there are laws protecting the mentally ill. A hold that doesn't meet criteria could result in a lawsuit. Asses needed to be covered).

We knew she'd stopped taking her meds and for awhile we convinced her to let us monitor her, we'd each take shifts and go to her house and watch her swallow. We were not designed for this, nor did we have the expertise. We were the renegade social workers out of our realm and very much on our own. This went on for a couple weeks but things were not getting better. Typically a month or so is needed to achieve true stabilization, and time was not on our side.

I went to her door one day to check in on her, she reluctantly opened it, wild eyed and manic. She pulled me inside, ranting about the president, the FBI, she was being watched and it was my fault. Her son strapped to a high chair watching the show. The apartment was a disaster, pictures torn from magazines covered the walls, the eyes on every single face had been blackened out.

I asked her to come with me to the office, gathered the staff around. I sat next to her and told her how much we all loved her and her son, how worried we were. That we needed to make sure she was taking her pills, that even with us watching her we suspected she still wasn't taking them. She listened quietly and once I stopped she looked up, her face contorted and in a voice I'd never heard before I am the lord jesus christ and you are persecuting me. my son is the son of god, they want to take him and I will kill him before they can find him. he will die for all of your sins. We collectively gasped, the men moved slightly closer, the women slightly back. I'll bet good money that no one there that day has ever forgotten those moments. A window into someone's hell had opened and we all had first row seats.

We knew we had to call the police and we knew how bad that was going to be. We placed the call and told them she'd threatened her son's life, knowing it was one of the few things they'd respond to. They came and finally agreed to take her to the psychiatric ward, and when they told her she attacked them and tried to attack me. We were separating her from her child. She was being taken away. No matter what she'd done thus far, she loved her son. She loved her son a lot. She was just so tragically ill.

Her son had been in her arms, wrenched out of her grasp by the police and handed to me, they took her down and handcuffed her. She son was hysterical, I was crying, she was in the back of the police car by now kicking at the windows. Screaming. It happened in moments, her son saw too much. He had already seen way, way too much.

She had no family, no one willing to take her son. As such, there were no options but the shelter. He still hadn't let go of me, so the police asked me to come with them, they'd bring me back when it was done. I rode in the back of the police car with him, his three year old hand clasped in mine. The children's shelter processed him, took him from my arms, another child entering the system.

It took months for all of us to really recover. We'd visit her son at the shelter and try to get info on D. She'd been involuntarily committed and had lost custody of her son. It would be near impossible to get him back.

There were many, many mistakes made; ours included. We did our best, but we weren't equipped for this level of sickness, interventions needed to happen sooner, chains yanked. We did our best and we lost, we all lost. I am a mother now and wasn't then. We made mistakes then I wouldn't make now.

Her son was placed in permanent foster care; by all accounts he was thriving in his new home. We lost touch with him after a while, he was sucked into the system's vortex. D's fate was even less clear, in fact years went by without us ever knowing what happened to her.

About a year ago J and I were driving to the movies. At a stoplight I noticed a woman on the corner, ranting and swaying, dirty. I looked, then looked again. It was D. Holy shit, it was D.
J asked if I wanted to stop the car, I shook my head and we kept driving.

We just kept driving.