The organization that houses me now has three types of housing options: Group Housing for people who cannot manage living on their own; Crisis Housing as an alternative to emergency hospitalization for mental health breakdowns; and Supported Independent Living (SIL) for those with mental illness who are high functioning enough to live on their own and are able to work towards independence. I am in the SIL program.
Before I moved in here with a roommate I kept telling my advocates that something was wrong. The roommate, after we met, kept calling me at all hours of the night but did not know who I was and the Director of Housing kept pushing back my move-in date. I was very nervous, but everyone believed this was a good way to move me out of the fake reentry house and into an apartment where I did not have to be subjected to group living that created triggers because of my complex PTSD. Yet, the very core of me was saying that something was off about the roommate.
Against my judgment and fears I moved into this apartment that is owned by a private company. The organization that offers the SIL program, leases apartments and then subsidizes and subleases them to their clients. My very first night here my roommate made it clear she did not want a roommate. She had lived here for seven months by herself. She spent hours threatening to kill me. I started recording her as she spoke to a friend on the phone. She said, “She look like a crack head.” [Note: I’m very thin and small, but I have never used drugs or even smoked a cigarette a day in my life.] And, “I swear ta God I’ma drag this bitch, slit her throat and watch her take her last breaf.” I sat in my little den room silently crying and sent text and emails to my friends and support network. Everyone was up all night long texting and calling me.
I sent an email to the Director of Housing from my cell phone and detailed what had happened. The next day he came with his son to the apartment. It was a Saturday. The director told me, and the roommate, that he was furious with us. Not only did I offer to play the recordings of her threats, but also she admitted to making the threats. This is what he said (I recorded the entire meeting), “That’s just how she expresses herself. If I thought she was serious I would do something about it.”
Now keep in mind that when I first met with this man I explained to him that I did not want to be partnered with anyone that had a history of violence, as I am a survivor. This Director of Housing told me that the roommate I was moving in with was quiet and had been rescued from a domestic violence situation.
[Later I learned that she was the perpetrator of dozens of domestic violence acts and that she had an open case when I moved in with her for attacking two female residents at a DV shelter where she had worked.]
Then the housing director told me that my problem is that I spend too much time in therapy and that I need to let God handle my suffering—remember this is an organization that works with people with mental illness and therapy is mandatory to receive housing. He was serious. He quoted the Bible to me and tried to get me to let the roommate give me a hug after I had spent the night waiting for her to kill me or at least do some serious damage. I declined the hug which made everyone upset. Then he and his son went away.
This is what I soon discovered. The roommate was abusing her medication: two Fentanyl patches for pain at a time, Percocet, Valium, Lithium, Seroquel and anything she could buy and trade with the various men she had coming over. I pretended everything was okay because she had a voucher and was going to move out. I thought we could work it out until she moved. Plus, the Director of Housing made it clear that he was not going to do anything about the roommate and would report anything to her that I told him. Why? He explained, in front of my attorney handling the grievance against them, “She [the roommate] can say what she wants it’s freedom of speech.”
Then 10 days into the living situation in the middle of the night the roommate was so high she forgot who I was and when I went to the bathroom she pulled a knife on me (she slept with knives, carried them in her pocket, kept one on the dresser) and I had to call her name and remind her that I lived with her. She said, “Oh. Ahight! We cool.” And then fell back into her drug haze.
The next day I went to work and told my boss. She said, “Right now go to the court and get a Temporary Protective Order.” I was so outside of myself I needed my boss to order me to go and get help. I took my phone that had the recordings and played the threats that I had been receiving from the roommate and a TPO was issued that ordered the police department to remove her that day and a hearing was set for a one year Civil Protective Order (CPO) which was granted two weeks later. I still fear her.
The housing organization knew they were in trouble once the CPO was granted. How did they support me for protecting myself? They relinquished the lease—without notifying me—with the privately owned apartment complex, which in turn filed an eviction notice for a Jane or John Doe stating I was a trespasser or squatter. As a subleaser I have very little rights. I tried to fight it, but even though the private property owner colluded with the organization to get me out of their program it is very hard to prove. The housing organization cannot terminate me from the program because 1) I am in compliance with my mental health treatment plan and I follow all of their rules; and 2) when there is a pending formal grievance against and organization with the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) the organization cannot change my level of services or reduce them.
Thus the organization relinquished the lease without telling me and because the DBH hearing is not until July 1, 2015 they are willing to wait until DBH sanctions them and mandates they house me in the same standard. Where does that leave me? I will be homeless in 10 days.
Here is a partial answer to the question of what are these organizations doing with the money? They are providing substandard care and puting people in situations that could be physically harmful or even fatal. These organizations are hiring unqualified staff to run programs as cheaply as possibly, giving minimal services, barely keeping up the housing and paying their executive staff more money than they could make any where else because they are not qualified.
I have representation for the DBH grievance, as there is a legal organization that represents people like me for free. They give quality representation, are overworked and underpaid and rely on funding to do their jobs well. I try to show my gratitude and I volunteer for them as much as I can. I am still fighting to live because they are not just my lawyers they care about me. They truly care for all of the poor consumers with mental health issues who fall prey to these abusive organizations.
Most consumers of these services designed for the mentally ill who are poor do not know their rights or are too afraid to speak up when they are abused by the very people who are there to help. They go silent for fear of what I am facing—rejection, being painted in a false light, and eviction. In short when I ask, “Who Speaks for Me?” I am asking for all of us who are so marginalized by our “status” that we know even if we are heard we often will not be believed and will suffer more.
Unlike most returning citizens with mental illness who are poor—and this is who I am at this moment—I have learned that silence only empowers the abusers. I document every thing and then I go with my evidence to those organizations and people who can help. This means I am willing to pay the personal price because there is a cost for truth.
Who Speaks for Me? I am trying to. I want to heal and live instead of survive. I want to turn my life into a vocation and leave a legacy of help and healing. This is my truth.