Sean’s Boots 2015 Ethan Allen Club Shelter
Our local paper featured a story recently on the closing of our low barrier shelter for the season. This is Vermont and it is still pretty darn cold. I didn’t realize until very recently that most shelters require sobriety. Few offer much at all to single men. I understand, limited resources etc. Homelessness is complicated. Mental Illness and substance abuse are major barriers to getting housing. Unfortunately, history of incarceration can make matters even worse.
The paper featured a picture from 2015. It showed Sean’s boots. At the time this shelter was located in the former Ethan Allen Club. So ironic that the shelter was housed in this former exclusive men’s club. Sean stayed there for a few weeks in the spring of 2015.
I had a hard time understanding why he would choose homelessness over a nice bed in a comfortable home, with running water and cable TV. That is what mental illness does, there is no sense. Home was confining, too many rules, sobriety (and many times we weren’t as tough as we should have been) being one of them.
At least the shelter offered warmth. I hated the idea of Sean being cold and hungry. The shelter offered a meal and a bed. Often, like many low barrier shelters there was commotion. People could come into the facility in varying states of sobriety. Sean said at one point “Everyone here is drunk and crazy” I can’t imagine sleeping in there. Yet, he didn’t want to come home.
We have brought meals this year to the new Community Health Center warming shelter. We have handed out poems of Sean’s and prayer cards. I hope someone might think about getting help after reading his story. Bringing food has been gratifying, so wonderful to make people smile at the sight of a home cooked meal…. Visiting the shelter is sad though when I wonder if this would have been Sean’s future story if he stayed out on the streets.
Some positives are that Spectrum’s (for young adults) shelter age has been raised to 26. Sean may have faired better there with younger people and more services than the shelter at Ethan Allen. Also, the new warming shelter has more services through Community Health Center.
There is talk of potentially making this a year-round facility, just seems to make sense doesn’t it?
First poem in the “A City” series…Burlington, VT sunset.
A few months ago, my husband and I spoke at a community opiate task force meeting in our hometown. The meeting was attended by the many officials including Mayor Weinberger , Police Chief del Pozo, Jackie Corbally- opioid policy coordinator; representatives from the Health Department, University Medical Center..
It was difficult to share some of the details of Sean’s history, especially his incarceration. However, it is part of his story. In fact, he was not given the care he needed in the prison system. He was sentenced for several misdemeanor offenses. Luckily, he never injured anyone. We are forever grateful that, while he definitely did wrong, his offenses didn’t cause significant harm. He was pretty good at petty theft and a bit of a con. How much was due to addiction vs. his bipolar disorder, I am not sure.
I do know, he failed attempts at “Mental health Court”. His PO tried, in vain, to get him treatment and Psychiatric care. Unfortunately, while sentenced at a “work camp” (prison for non violent offenders) he didn’t receive his medication for bipolar disorder. He never had a psychiatric evaluation and was never offered any medication for addiction. In the past he had good success with Abilfy for mood stabilization and Naltrexone (Vivitrol) for alcoholism. I don’t know if he would have identified himself as an opiate addict or not. I do think if he had received better mental health care he might have survived.
I feel pretty strongly that mental health should be part of care for our prisoners. You wouldn’t stop someone’s insulin if they were diabetic??
Our town’s mayor spoke about Sean in his “State of the City” address. Specially, to advocate for treatment of incarcerated individuals for opiate addiction. How much this would have impacted Sean, I don’t know. Sean overdosed just 38 days after his release. We don’t know if he knew he was taking an opiate.
I do think medication assisted treatment in the jails it is a very good idea. This was one of many suggestions to reduce overdose deaths. In Rhode Island, where medication assisted treatment is offered in prison, overdose deaths were reduced by over one half in recently released prisoners. (JAMA Psychiatry Feb 2017)
Reluctantly, my husband and I agreed to share Sean’s story to hope for better treatment. Not easy !! I don’t think I slept for a few days knowing the paper would print the story. Indeed, the paper got some of the facts wrong but, overall not too far off base. The actual mayor’s address was correct but the paper’s report wasn’t completely accurate. Kim Blake (Sean’s mom)
A dear friend gave me this poem when you were 20 or so. At the time the struggles with your illness were seemingly insurmountable. Dotty’s gentle prayers and this poem helped me let go.. just a little…to let you find your own way.
Children by Khalil Gibran
And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.”
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.