What is Faith?

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. ~ Hebrews 11:1

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Animal House

Almost everyone knows of the movie Animal House. A group of madcap boys trying to be worthy of "THE" fraternity, wreak havoc trying to fit in. Short of burning the house down (although if memory serves me correctly, they almost did) they did just about everything, to prove they were worthy of being part of this elite club.

Here in Eugene, the 'Animal House' house, went on to become the first home for the clients of ShelterCare, the biggest difference being, the men and women who choose to be part of this program will discover they don't have to do anything to prove themselves worthy. They are accepted just the way they are. There is no judgment, no criticism, just shelter, care and hope for those who suffer from mental illness and for families in crisis.

Many of the ShelterCare clients have known a life of rejection. With the Carter Administration's Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, the shift from inpatient services to outpatient was meant to help coordinate many services provided by community mental health systems such as halfway houses, and family and group homes. For a while it did. This act allowed those with mental illnesses to remain in their home communities with minimal hospitalization.

The system failed with the lack of support from the Regan Administration which left the funding in the hands of the individual states, and for decades caused concern with good reason. The hospitals of yesterday have become today's shelters, train stations, rest stops and more. What Regan neglected to take realistically into consideration was where would the funding come from? Not the financially struggling states. Where would they go once released back into society?

More than 300,000 mentally ill are being housed and treated in jail instead of hospitals. I find that ironic since back in 1842, Dorothea Dix founded the first mental health institution because she was sickened by the dehumanizing treatment of the mentally ill in prisons. So we have come full circle and are right back to the beginning. Many of the mentally ill are either homeless (the third largest cause of homelessness is mental illness) or in jail.

As I pass through Washington and Oregon and am about to enter California, one of the things I hear the most when I ask a shelter or service provider such as ShelterCare, "What can I do for you? What message would you like me to get out there?" I hear the same answer time after time.

"Look at them. Smile at them. Listen to them. They want to know that they are not worthless. They want to know that they have value because in their minds they have none."

ShelterCare may not be the end to homelessness for the mentally ill in Eugene, but they certainly are a huge part of the solution.


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