I don’t want to write this blog post, but I feel compelled to. I have a lot to say about all of this, but I also don’t want to say much at all out of respect by those impacted. But, I think people need to know . . . I am mostly concerned over how many of these deaths are related to mental illness or other issues related to mental health and wondering if we are doing enough to prevent these deaths.
“BLIND DAVE” – May 10, 2013
From an email sent to me and several members of the media and other friends. I believe this says it all.
Blind Dave, Blind Injustice
by David Gegenhuber
(Writer’s note: The following true story took place over the past few days, concluding on the morning of May 10. I have chosen to submit this story in a personal email form as I was intimately involved and thus disturbed by the outcome. This email was written by me to a good friend and therapist in Chicago as my way of coping with this tragedy, and I have included her reply. The woman mentioned in my email is Tami Miller, of Feeding the State Street Family, a most blessed woman and good friend. RIP, Dave.)
This has been a difficult day. I told you that I have been helping some of these people out at the request of this woman with the big heart. The night before last, she contacted me about this 32 year old guy that became blind five years ago. She brought him to meet me and asked if I could take him to Janesville yesterday, which I did. I also did some other unexpected running around with him before we went to Janesville. This guy was in a really bad physical, psychological and emotional state. He had just had a hernia operation a few days earlier and was pretty much dumped onto the streets when he was released without any social worker or any other kind of outreach made available to him. They just handed him some heavy meds and set him free. He was not only medicated but exhausted when I took over his “care.” He had been staying in the night homeless shelter a couple of nights, which he didn’t like because he had been assaulted and robbed there in the past. Nonetheless, he had to stay there as he had nowhere else to go. This woman was making arrangements for a more long term place for him to stay while I took him to Janesville.
When we got back to Madison, I was asked to take him for an interview at a place that would allow him to stay until we could find him an assisted living situation. Mind you, this guy was really out of it on the meds at this time. The interviewer had only a short time to talk to him as he had other appointments. When we got there, this guy spent 20 minutes in the bathroom. The interviewer was saying he was running out of time and I was prompting him to get out of there. When he finally did come out, he seemed more out of it than ever. In front of the interviewer, he says, “Where is my bowl of food?” which of course was a delusion. I explained to the interviewer that he had just gotten out of the hospital, but the interviewer had pretty much seen enough and was out of time anyway, and said we should come back the next day. I took him back where I had picked him up at his friend’s place. Then I heard later that the friend was taking him back to the night shelter that night.
This morning, I got a call from another homeless friend that someone had been found dead in the shelter and it was thought that the dead man was blind. Needless to say, my heart jumped. I called my woman friend that put me on this mission and she freaked out. She did some checking and I got this text: I just talked to the coroner…he is dead. Here he was, blind, just had an operation, handed heavy meds to self-medicate and put out on the streets. The woman is understandably devastated and infuriated. And I did all I could to comfort her. I’m rather pissed off myself because this is the worst example of neglect by a blind government and an apathetic society. Here in this capitol of a modern state with a progressive and liberal university, people are treated like throw-aways. Maybe this story better explains the passion for homeless advocacy that I found being out here. Simply outrageous.
From my friend:
I’m very sorry that this situation from beginning to end, occurred. You guys know you are fighting an uphill battle in a Republican-controlled state and I give you loads of credit for caring.
I don’t see the social services situation getting better–ever.
As you are all too painfully aware, this is a dog-eat-dog world with every man and woman for him or herself. It’s a Darwinian situation with the strong surviving and the weak succumbing. Is it right or fair? No, no at all. It just is.
I could move back to the country of my birth [Canada], and in 3 short months qualify for full medical (including mental health & substance abuse) for a nominal fee and dental and eye-care for cheap. That’s what we in this great country should have for every man, woman and child. At least then the poor, the unemployed, the chronically sick, the homeless could be in good health. It could be the start of a new beginning for many.
This country has a scandalous track record for taking care of the down-trodden. Community-based organizations try to take up the slack, but they are stretched beyond thin.
I would be angry, too. But there is no winning here. Only small victories.
WOMAN WHO FELL FROM PARKING RAMP – June 14
I don’t have a name, mostly because one was never reported, but I have heard the name. My understanding from talking to a police officer is that they have had many issues with this person trying to take their life over time. Wondering what might have been done to prevent this is the person was known to have issues.
BOB KUNZ – June 19
Of course this one was all over the news. He is the homeless man who was beaten to death on the square. Tragic for many reasons, but mostly concerning to me in that the person who killed Bob was obviously mentally ill at the time, but now found competent by the court now that he is taking the medications that are needed. I recall seeing this guy yelling several times before this incident and I’m wondering what was being done to address his issues – or if everyone was just accepting his condition without trying to get him the assistance he clearly needed.
MAN FOUND IN HIS CAR – August 14
Again, no name. No details. Tho I do believe this is misreported as I heard about it on Friday and I believe he was found on Wednesday. I do know the person who found this gentleman while volunteering to do outreach to the homeless in our community and checking up on car campers.
ANDREA – August 17
Sigh, many of you may know this person as “the woman from my porch”. I don’t want to say much at the moment as I am struggling with what to say to honor her privacy and at the same time, talk about how the system failed, yet again. And also wondering what the investigation reveals, was the guy on his phone or texting? What other reason would there be to hit someone in the middle of a crosswalk in the middle of the road in broad daylight?
WHAT’S GOING ON?
4 of the 5 seem to be related to system fail. Lack of services available that people needed. I don’t know for sure, as it is difficult to know what happened due to confidentiality and hard to share the stories in a respectful way. From what I have seen, up close and personal and from talking to people involved or closely associated with these incidents, a lot of them seem to come back to mental health services, but not all.
That’s 5 more names to add to the Madison Urban Ministry list of names they read in memory of our homeless friends who have died over the years. That’s a lot in the last few months and I don’t know if it is a sign of increased homelessness or increased distress in the homeless community. Either way, it is unacceptable. I’m beginning to wonder who’s “behavior” we should be looking at more closely . . .
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