The beginning of the comeback

 

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It was hard to believe. I had seen so many predictions of the demise of the democratic party by the right and the so-called Berniecrats followers of Bernie Sanders. I came home after work and turned on the computer last night to pay close attention to the midterm elections. I had tried in vain arguing with people about the Donna Brazile book. These people were convinced that the book told them the primary election was fixed by Clinton supporters. Even when well meaning people on facebook posted stories about how the facts clearly pointed to Clinton winning more votes than Sanders they were determined to chew on that bone until there was not a single shred of meat.

At the same time the midterm elections were approaching. There was New Jersey were the hateful bully Chris Christie was term limited out of office. His Lieutenant Governor was running to replace the most disliked governor in the state’s history. But the big enchilada was in Virginia which has been electing democratic governors and residential candidates. I don’t know a lot about Virginia but I had heard about the democratic governors including Douglas Wilder and the outgoing Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe is a tough talking SOB who will not put up with any bullshit from republicans. Faced with a hostile legislature gerrymandered into safe republican seats, he voted more bills than they could pass. And he did one very good thing for democracy. He restored voting rights for more than 100,000 people who had been convicted of felonies. Many states throughout the south automatically take away voting for life which falls most heavily on African-Americans. On Tuesday the twitter was filled with stories of people who were voting for the first time thanks to him. It was a wonderful night from start to finish learning about the new people who were swept into office in a big blue wave. Transgendered people, black men and women, and a Sikh politician were part of the diverse group who were elected.

It was the beginning of the comeback. If democratic voters want it to be. We can take this as a sign of better days ahead and become even more motivated. The republican legislatures and governors have signed into law evil legislation aimed at curbing our voting rights, restricting our reproductive freedom, putting their hateful religion into our lives and much more. It is time to resist. It is time to begin driving #45 and his evil profiteers from office. It is time for fair legislative districts, it is time for more people to regain their voting rights. It is time to end the rhetoric of defeatism. There were 8 years we were in power and we can regain power if we work together.

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Helping Milwaukee County Make Decisions

A few years ago the Republican controlled state legislature passed a law taking decision-making authority for mental health away from the elected county supervisors and replaced them with a group of volunteers from the community. The board includes mental health consumers, attorneys, advocates and mental health professionals. There are a lot of big decisions to be made regarding Milwaukee County mental health. The county is moving away from the model of maintaining a large mental health facility which they have been downsizing over the years by closing wards and shifting the people who lived there to community based facilities. Case management, which helps people live in the community, has already been contracted out to various agencies. These agencies help engage with consumers and connect them to services with the aim of reducing their dependence on in patient treatment, which is expensive and often very traumatic.

However, there are no guarantees in this system. We all know people in community programs who died but we can try to reduce the number of preventable deaths. We can ensure that case management provides necessary services. We can increase the number of affordable housing units. We can offer physical and mental health in a coordinated fashion and make certain that people are getting regular check ups. We can have clinics where we would want to be treated. These are very easy steps we can take in our own agencies

But what we do to guide the process of system wide reform? One way is by joining the mental health board. Imagine my surprise when a former co-worker asked me to apply to join the board, which is appointed by the county executive. I will be tossing my hat into the ring tonight to see if I can add my experience to this group. I am excited, interested and curious all at the same time. I will post some more as the process goes along.

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The poor ask, who will care for us?

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In the Sunday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the front page story asks, are health systems failing a moral test? My question is simpler, who will care for the poor? I have worked in several levels of mental health including apartment programs, the crisis resource center, the mental hospital and case management, for more than 10 years.  And much has changed during that time. The most dramatic is the downsizing of the mental hospital which now sites half empty. At the same time resources have been shifted towards improving people’s access to resources in the community. There are more organizations dedicated to ensuring that people don’t need the things that inpatient care provides.

When I worked at the hospital, nursing staff morale was low because they saw where it was going. I saw former nurses at a recent listening session held by the Milwaukee Mental Health Board. It was hard not to feel some sympathy for them as they talked about the end of their careers while in their 50s and early 60s.

There are multiple sides to this story. There are tragic stories of people who died at the mental health complex. There are people who did not need to be housed in the long term care units who were assisted in transitioning into the community. There are some acutely ill people being turned away from the mental hospital because there are not enough beds and not enough staff to care for them.

The Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex has always served as the safety net for the sickest and poorest of our residents. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asks which of the profitable existing private hospitals will take it over and serve their patients. People who had no insurance always knew the the county was there for them. But those days are rapidly coming to a close. They asked the advocates what they hoped for but I don’t recall anyone asking the people who sometimes become too ill in the community what they would like to see.  If I was a poor person looking at these choices, I would be afraid. And the nights are still cold.

Dear white people

Today was a day away from our mental health consumers as the Milwaukee county mental health and substance abuse contracted agencies attended a session designed to educate us about white privilege. The presenter was a very dark skinned man named Dr. Eddie Moore. The presentation is part of a year long series by the change agents program designed to help improve outcomes by making us more familiar with the concerns of living in an increasing more diverse society. Dr. Moore had grown up in a black neighborhood , became  addicted to drugs and remained involved with them until his first job after completing his bachelor’s degree. He didn’t clean up his act until he was forced to do so by his employers with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Dr. Moore is in an interracial relationship and lives with his wife and children in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is an experienced presenter and he and his wife own their own businesses.I was active on social media throughout the session, first complaining about hunger, then being disappointed by the quality of the food. I was sitting at a table with the staff at our agency who work for one of our other programs so I only see them at our Monday staff meetings.

I would estimate that 30% of the attendees were people of color. This included agencies and staff of Milwaukee County. Ours is one of the few agencies owned and operated b African-Americans so it was a little tricky taking about the ways that our policies may have been influences by the concept of white supremacy. There is also the problem of introversion versus extroversion. I was sitting next to a small quiet young woman waiting to break into the conversation at our table which was dominated by the more talkative people.

The program included an action plan which started with educating ourselves about the issue . I went to the library and checked out Color Blind Racism by Leslie C. Carr, My First White Friend by Patricia Raybon and Whiteness a Critical Reader.

I also admit that as an African American worker I have a certain amount of privilege regarding the consumers I assist. However, that is a topic for another discussion.

 

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Evicted

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I started reading Evicted by Matthew Desmond, about the devastating impact of evictions on poor people in Milwaukee. He has been all over public media being interviewed. The happy face of the young black woman is not the sort that is portrayed in this book. She looks like a woman from the middle class, maybe a social work student .She might have benefits and security from the kind of poverty that is ravaging people in the inner city

I liked her picture so I chose it instead of a depressing picture along the lines of what you will find in eviction court in Milwaukee. There you will find angry people of many different colors with one common thread. Not enough income. They may be people living along Wisconsin Avenue where a former girl friend lived. We were both being evicted from our respective houses. She was a CNA who over worked double shifts and I was a peer specialist.

What we had in common was the horror of no having benefits. Although some white people may also be getting evicted next week, I would bet that 75% of the evictees will be poor and black and many of them are mothers on SSI or CNAs or other low wage workers.

Over the past 9 months, I have been fortunate that only two consumers I was working with have been evicted.  Poor women on SSI. Supplemental security income, SSI, is inadequate. A few of the people we assist have vouchers from programs like My Home, live in supported housing that offers peer support and case management or qualify for senior housing. I am proud that I helped a few people get into those programs. More commonly, our consumers are living in a room and board or a large group home shared with several roommates.

The case managers try to monitor the housing, which helps take up a lot of their work. It can be exhausting to help someone maintain an apartment. There is a person who has a cleaner help take care of the apartment. And I help with grocery shopping. I sometimes have people who are so internally pre-occupied they are barely aware of my presence even when we are out in public. But with some public benefits such as energy assistance and food share, they get by with a little help from their friends.

There was a sad story in Evicted about a consumer being moved out of a building due to poor conditions and then the landlord got a call from a Wraparound case manager about moving a consumer into the same rat trap.  And this landlord was featured in a sickening story about going to a landlord seminar and telling white landlords how she could help them make money in the inner city using her as an intermediary.

I believe that this is far better than my early years as a peer specialist, living with roaches and incredibly underpaid. Far better than feeling angry and wanting to choke consumers who were living in far better surroundings than me. If you have a chance, you should read Evicted  and reflect on the impact of poverty on your life. What is your role in the life of poor people? Are you living in a house with dangerous conditions, without a smoke detector  and with a door that an angry person could kick down on the way to killing you?Do you fear that one of your 6 roommates will harm you? Are you struggling to survive on meager benefits while listening to politicians claiming you are cheating the system?

 

 

Encouraging the consumers

 

Who knows? The woman in the picture below walking her dogs may be one of my co-workers or someone else’s case manager enjoying herself after work. But maybe should inspire one or more people by setting a positive example to begin walking to the store. Or to go to the Humane Society to pet the animals.

Maybe on a trip the consumer would get all those positive feelings we like to have as people who are not receiving case management. And why wouldn’t someone who is receiving our services want those kinds of feelings? There is a whole world of positive living that people have been describing and maybe we can help provide the encouragement. Instead of talking about medication, let’s talk about what inspires people, what they enjoy doing and what they see themselves becoming.

 

 

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We’re looking for few good people

The Recovery Advisory Committee of Milwaukee is looking for a few good people. This committee is guiding the implementation of the Comprehensive Community Services in Milwaukee County. This is Medicaid benefit that offers assistance to people who are seeking recovery from mental health and substance abuse problems. Its purpose is to cover the life span. In order to hold counties accountable the state of Wisconsin developed guidelines for community input. The largest portion of the committee is to be people who identify as having a lived experience with mental health and or substance abuse.

When we started out, we were meeting that guideline. But some people have fallen away. That is why we need to reach out and bring in more people. If you are interested in severing on this committee you can respond to this blog entry on Facebook, twitter, wordpress or wherever you are reading me. For more information, go to the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division website and look for C0mprehensive Community Services. We know you’re out there. Come, give us a hand or two.