Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Lessons learned from Redmond's homelessness forum

On November 3rd, my wife and friend John Reinke attended a forum on Homelessness at the Redmond library.  It was excellent. The panel included:  Two speakers from Hopelink (case workers,) NAMI-Eastside (a bipolar spokesperson,) Resource Police Officer Dave Sowers, Kent Hay (Redmond's homeless outreach specialist,) Karina Woodruff of Friends of Youth (FOY,) the Executive Director of Teen Feed (Seattle based,) and Mellisa Munn responsible for monitoring and enforcing the "rules of conduct." at the  Redmond Library.

We learned the homeless are welcome to the library without I.D. at any time as long as they abide by the rules of conduct. "Friends of Redmond Library" sponsors community service providers to assist the homeless at the library on the first Wednesday of every month.  Kent Hay runs the program.  .

Mr. Hay's primary job is to work with the police as a buffer to the homeless, in part, to overcome the police stereotype of crime enforcement.  In Kent's buffer role, the homeless are more approachable and receptive to human service assistance.  Officer Sowers was thrilled with Kent's police/homeless assistance and complimented Police Chief Wilson for initiating the program.

Severe mental illness is approximately four times more common in the homeless population. I asked officer Sowers what the incidence of  involuntary commitment of the mentally ill was in our community.  He couldn't answer me but indicated the commitment process in our State is very involved.  Earlier this year when I had a public coffee with the Chief Wilson I was told the police involuntarily commit about one citizen a day. I just can't believe this and emailed the Chief to clarify. She didn't respond.

The NAMI-Eastside spokesperson, a valued and generous volunteer, quoted a 60% incidence of mental illness within the homeless community.  In my opinion, 60% is way too high and saying so contributes to stereotyping the homeless. Scientific literature finds 20 to 25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness.  Upon questioning, he clarified 60% included mild illnesses.

The Friends of Youth manager said 30% of their clients have a severe mental illness and another 30% have milder "homeless induced" illnesses.  Friends of Youth (FOY) shelter and care for the Eastside's homeless teens -- many with a: 1) mental impairment, 2) substance abuse, and/or 3) sexual abuse issue. Their extensive programs and services are described here.

The manager, Karina Woodruff, didn't know anything about HERO House -- a non profit devoted to providing the seriously mentally impaired with socialization opportunities, job rehab and housing assistance. I've attended two HERO House galas and two luncheons and have tried very hard to help them reach-out to the community for new consumers.  The House is now moving to a new location and doubling in size.  Already, they've been reaching out to Fairfaix Hospital and Swedish outpatient home clinic.  

Some of the homeless could find comfort from their belief in a God.. We need to start thinking about the usefulness of  compassionate spiritual caring and include the faith community in our discussions.

Bob Yoder, opinion

According to "one in five of Americans have a mental health condition in a given year".--  "Only 6% of Americans are severely mentally ill (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009.)"

What can you do to help the homeless?   There are many,many ways.

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