Barefoot and Shipwrecked

I’m jogging Max, now 16 months old and 90 pounds of K-9 energy.  It is Monday morning, around 9:20am.  I’ve recently switched from traditional running shoes to some sort of 5-toed soft shoes that are intended to mimic the effects of barefoot running.  I like them, but Max is clearly impatient about the fact that I’ve had to slow down to accommodate the way the new shoes (if they can be classified as shoes) necessarily alter my stride; without thick padding on the heel you can’t land as hard without bruising your foot, but still the effect of running pseudo-barefoot feels great when you spend your week in heavy boots stomping through ruins.

Unfortunately, as I jog this morning, I know Max is not the only one who is growing impatient with me.  There is Pastor Pam who works at the church on the corner only 10 blocks from my house.  She has taken Tom, a very bright man suffering disorganized-type schizophrenia and exhibiting a good dose of paranoia, into her flock as best as she can.  He lives at an abandoned bank building, only 8 blocks down the street from her church.  Pastor Pam’s church, the bankb building Tom sleeps in and my house constitute a triangle of just over a mile, so I’m on the lookout for Tom as I make this loop with Max pulling ahead at the leash.

Pastor Pam called me Friday morning when Tom was at her church.  He was wondering when he is going to be housed, and also worrying that we are dragging our feet as we conspire to have him thrown in the hospital again.  Last time he came to our office he saw in-house psychiatrist and she sent him to the hospital.  Unfortunately, the police officers who responded to take him to the hospital were rather forceful in handling Tom.  Following a rough run in with overzealous cops by spending two weeks in the hospital didn’t sit well with Tom.

So I’m jogging with Max, looking for Tom, knowing I’m going to talk to Pastor Pam later today.  I’m thinking about Tom’s case just as much as I am focused on missing the rocks on the pavement with every step. 

Missing rocks on the road… hmmm, that sounds like a bad metaphor for Tom’s life over the past few months I’ve known him.  The difference is that instead of missing them, he seems to step right on them.  The trip from California looking for work ledl to life on NOLA’s streets.  There’s also the oddly misplaced racism and its inherent complications that he encounters when trying to find day labor: contractors think he is Latino (he is of mixed European and Japanese ancestry) but won’t hire him when they find he can’t speak Spanish.  The abandoned buildings he finds himself sleeping in, catching no more than five to ten minutes of sleep at a time are another nightly trial.  There are the arrests for crimes such as vagrancy (why again is it a crime to be a vagrant?).  And of course the already cited incident in the handcuffs and the hospital psych ward, and his release by the hospital right back to the street.  The guy just can’t seem to make a good step along his path.

Back to his paranoia and Pastor Pam’s impatience… we had good news two weeks ago when Tom was approved for an apartment through a local PSH program.  Both he and Pastor Pam misunderstood this to mean that we were going to pick him up and take him straight to an apartment.  Unfortunately, it is by no means quick from this point.  The program is backlogged and is still dealing with clients we referred over a month ago.  I’m not blaming the program staff for that; I used to do this work from the PSH housing side, and let me tell you it is no quick process to find landlords that are willing to rent to severely disabled people, especially those with obvious psychosis.  But it can be done, just not as quickly as the need dictates it should be.

At the time that we let them know Tom was approved, he decided he no  longer wanted to work with his prior UNITY case manager, because he associates that person with his trip to the hospital; for the same reason, he refuses to come to our office fearing that it is some sort of triage unit for the psych ward.  So I adopted Tom’s case just to get him through the final step of the housing process.  I had to take the worker who is going to house him to the church about a week ago to meet him and assess what he needs and wants.  He very clearly wants no case management, but by contrast Pastor Pam thinks he needs the high-intensive services of a group home setting.  The program we’re offering is somewhere between what he wants and she thinks he needs, but either way it is still a period of time before he will even see an apartment.

As I wrap up this jog I can’t help but think about the paths and processes our clients travel as a bad Homerian epic.  Every client has an idea of what he or she wants, but they rarely know where to find it.  They constantly end up shipwrecked on some island having been wooed the wrong direction by some siren’s song.  “There’s work in New Orleans.”  “They’re giving housing away in California.”  “It easy to get surgery for free in Massachusetts.”   But it seems that whenever they arrive, the song proves to ring hollow. 

We’ve finally promised Tom that he’s getting housing.  He’s been “approved.”  But he still has hurdles to leap over like client backlogs, potentially judgmental landlords, a judicial system to keep evading (trespassing is a crime after all, even if you’re just sleeping), and the all-important lease signing.  So I have to wonder: am I just another siren?  Will I actually show Tom the way home?  Or is this just one more shipwreck on his journey?

I’m sure any of you who’ve ever read the Odyssey and the Iliad can tell that I’ve never read any of Homer’s work, knowing it vaguely only through cultural references.  So does anyone know how theOdyssey ends?  Does Odysseus finally make it home?  And what does that mean for Tom?  Hopefully, this isn’t another Greek Tragedy.  But right now, I’ve got no way to tell and I am growing just as impatient with the vagaries of this housing process as Max, Pastor Pam and Tom are getting with me.


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