Officials say help available to homeless, mentally ill

From the Curry County Pilot, September 8, 2011

Curry County residents who suffer from substance abuse, mental illness or are homeless have a safety net of social services to ease their pain.

Drawing by Honoré Daumier

Drawing by Honoré Daumier

But officials who work in those agencies say that sometimes the people who need help the most avoid taking advantage of it.

Michael Olsen
, director of [Brookings] Outreach Gospel Mission, which operates a recovery program for men, said a certain percentage of those in need choose to continue self-destructive lifestyles.

“There are the road warriors who have made that decision,” he said.

Likewise, Oasis Shelter Home Inc. Executive Director Lea Sevey said some women who seek protection from domestic or sexual assault end up leaving the shelter and going back to an abusive relationship.

“There are lots of reasons they might not seek services,” she said. “They might lack self-esteem or fear they can’t survive without the other person, or that they can’t survive financially, or they are threatened with their kids being taken away.

“We’ve had a number of clients who are on their fourth time leaving. It really is not uncommon, sadly enough.”

The issue is timely because of the death of Ashley Knaus, the 21-year-old woman who died in a motor home fire. Her body was discovered Aug. 29 after the blaze on Social Security Bar, about four miles up the Chetco River.

She apparently was in the motor home alone after her father, 52-year-old Charles Knaus, was jailed days earlier on two disorderly conduct charges.

Those who knew them say Ashley was mentally slow and her father is an alcoholic. The two moved from place to place, including occasionally camping without a tent along the river, huddling under a blanket when it rained, according to Charles Knaus.

Curry County Undersheriff Bob Rector says a new program starting next month might have helped Ashley, who had her own minor brushes with law enforcement, including the charge of being a minor possessing alcohol.

It’s a mental health court, with the goal of diverting chronic offenders from a repeat scenario of jail and release into more appropriate settings where they can get needed treatment. Rector was part of a committee of law enforcement, court and social service representatives who worked on the concept for more than a year.

“We have many, many people who cycle through the system and some mental health needs are not being addressed,” he said.

Rector said agencies, including Curry County Human Services, want to make better use of existing resources. If the mental health court is successful, he said, the next step might be a similar drug court.

Annette Klinefelter-Dingle, of Curry County Human Services, is mental health court coordinator. She said the program will be funded through a federal grant and will be an arm of Curry County Circuit Court.

“In the revolving door of our criminal justice system, often people have mental illness and substance abuse issues,” she said. “This will provide intensive case management so they can get stabilized.”

She said it will involve collaboration between the public defender’s office, District Attorney’s office, Circuit Court judges, mental health officials and law enforcement. Referrals will be made after consultation by several agencies.

“It is a small start, but it is building a foundation and building strong partnerships,” said Klinefelter-Dingle.

The program also will provide housing for three people through a state block grant, she added.

Mental health court will convene twice a month from October through January. Then agency officials will meet to decide if the volume of clients warrants more or fewer sessions.

The mental health court concept is a good one, according to Brookings resident Mary Rowe, an advocate for the homeless.

“The problem is that street people are repeatedly arrested for drunk and disorderly or trespassing and they are put in jail and given fines they can’t afford,” she said. “It’s counter productive.”

Meanwhile, there are other options for people needing help. One is Crossroads, located at 2 Ross Road behind Chetco Pharmacy.

It’s a nonprofit drop-in center where clients can talk with peer mentors about their problems, said Crystal Williams, president of Crossroads’ board of directors. It’s open for drop-ins from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday

“I do everything in my power to help people get the resources they need,” said Williams, who added they are looking for more volunteers with a mental health care background.

Olsen, with Outreach Gospel Mission, said their kitchen provides meals three times a day.

“We feed a lot of people,” he said. “Whoever shows up, we feed.”

The mission served 1,373 meals in August and gave away 91 food boxes. A total of 253 people benefited from the generosity.

In addition, 13 men live at the mission, performing tasks such as cleaning or cooking while they work on personal projects such as getting their GED, a driver license or a birth certificate. Olsen said it’s the only full-service mens facility for 100 miles in any direction.

Mental health issues play a big part in homelessness, he said. One of his main goals is to instill better critical decision-making skills in clients.

“They don’t know how to make a decision,” Olsen said. “I believe education is the key. You can only swim through life so long before some kind of education is required.”

Recently, a 52-year-old man at the mission decided to get his GED, Olsen said.

Despite wanting to help everyone, Olsen said “I have limitations” and must refer families elsewhere. An average of two to three families arrive at the mission each week seeking some kind of help.

He recalled a recent day when a homeless husband and wife with three children showed up seeking school clothes for the kids. They had been living in the woods, Olsen said, and were “eaten alive” by mosquitoes.

“The heartbreak is for the families,” he said.

Soon, Olsen hopes to turn the mission into a home for women and their children. Olsen said he’ll find another option for housing the men before doing that.

Currently, up to 15 women can live at Oasis Shelter Home in Gold Beach. They primarily need refuge from abusive relationships and Executive Director Sevey said Oasis often refers them to Curry County Human Services for other care.

Women are offered a 30-day stay at Oasis, but can ask for an extension if they’re in the process of getting their GED, working or going to counseling, Sevey said.

The 24-hour crisis line is 1-800-447-1167.

Oasis also can advocate for elderly men and people with disabilities who are abused by caregivers.