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[Sound: leg twitching]
Jeffrey Davidson’s left leg won’t stop twitching. We’re sitting in the conference room at the homeless shelter in West Plains: the Samaritan Outreach.
“I had a job at…building some new places,” he says.
If you’re struggling to understand him, join the club. Jeffrey is one of several homeless people in the Ozarks who struggle with both mental illness and drug or alcohol addiction.
He’s lived a rough 30 years. He moved around a lot with his parents, whom he describes as “poor hippies.” Born in California. Moved to Ohio. Moved again to tiny Mountain View, Missouri, where his dad was a logger.
Jeffrey’s high school curriculum consisted more of fistfights than geometry or civics. He was expelled, but managed to graduate from an alternative high school for troubled teens.
He laid sheetrock and wiring electrical circuits in Columbia, where he lived with his kids. That is, until he went to prison (possession of pot with the intent to sell). He was out of prison briefly before he went back for abusing meth.
His story is a prime example of how addiction or mental illness can lead to homelessness. Jeffrey has been homeless for a year and a half since the mother of his kids kicked him out. She said he was “crazy,” and refused to put up with his habits. His only dream in life, he says, was to be a family man.
Jeffrey: “I got my heart broken, and I’ve been wandering around in a drug-induced haze.”
Reporter: “What were you using?”
Reporter: “I’ve interviewed many people who are addicted to many things, and I want you to be totally honest with me: did you use today?”
Jeffrey: “I smoked a joint on the way over here…right before I came over here.”
Reporter: “So, what help are you getting for your drug addiction?”
Jeffrey: “My kids—if I get around my kids, I won’t do it anymore.”
Reporter: “But you were in front of your kids before, and you used. So what makes you think you’ll stop this time?”
Jeffrey: “Uh…I think you’re right, I probably won’t stop completely. What I did before, I was allowed to—no one told me I couldn’t. And since I’ve had to leave my kids, my whole heart’s been broken. And drugs makes you not feel anymore. I don’t really feel like I’m addicted to drugs. I enjoy it. I like getting high. I like having fun. This is the only life I’m gonna get.”
There is help for homeless men and women battling addiction, although the more rural the area, generally, the fewer the services.
In Springfield, a plethora of homeless and rehab services work together. For example, the Salvation Army connects its homeless residents with the Ozarks Counseling Center, The Kitchen Clinic, Clarity Recovery and Wellness, Praise Assembly Church, or AA or NA meetings. Jeff Smith at the Salvation Army tells KSMU the only way the Salvation Army can afford to do that is because of community support – as in, donations.
And at Bill’s Place, a drop-in spot for the homeless on Commercial Street in Springfield, staff members offer screenings, which are followed up by case workers at Burrell Behavioral Health.
Another factor that, given the right conditions, can lead to homelessness is mental illness. Often, mental illness and addiction go hand in hand, and homelessness only exacerbates things.
Bill’s Place in Springfield is making a move to address more mental health needs, and now has four psychiatric rehab case workers on site.
Michael Lehmann, director of homeless services at Bill’s Place, says if a homeless person with mental illness has Medicaid, he or she can slide into treatment at Burrell. But most homeless adults don’t qualify for Medicaid in Missouri, he says, unless they have a disability.
Those without Medicaid can try going to the Kitchen Clinic, where interns from the Forest Institute offer counseling. But they have to have all financial documents on them – which, for a homeless person, is a challenge. At the Kitchen Clinic, the interns who see the mentally ill aren’t able to prescribe medication. Sometimes, they work with family practice doctors at the clinic to have a prescription written.
In rural towns across the Ozarks, resources are slim. Here at the Samaritan Outreach in West Plains, residents can attend NA or AA meetings. There’s also day treatment for rehab.
Becky Perez is the program director at Samaritan Outreach.
“Most of them don’t have Medicaid. Some of them do. If they don’t have Medicaid, they go to the Christian Clinic, and they get free medications through the Christian Clinic. One of the pharmacies, Burton Creek, has a program where they can give discounted – extremely discounted rates – for people who have mental illness and need their meds,” Perez said.
Most residents with mental illness, Perez says, go to Behavioral Health Care, a clinic affiliated with the local hospital. Residents have a case manager and a therapist, and they see a psychiatrist about once a month. That program is funded by a governmental grant that allows the clinic to administer a sliding fee, she says. But transportation to the clinic is another challenge…so many of them don’t make it to their appointments.
Perez says almost all of the homeless residents staying at her shelter are on some kind of medication. And she’s trying to stay on top of that.
“Everybody gives us their medication. We log it in. We count it, and we leave it in our locked ‘medicine room.’ And at several times a day, whoever’s on medication comes to the window, and we pass out their meds. And they can have their meds that way,” Perez said.
Jeffrey Davidson was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury he sustained in a major car accident eight years ago. He still battles horrific nightmares from that, he says. He’s also been diagnosed with severe depression.
Reporter: “You were prescribed medication for that, but you don’t take it. Why not?”
Jeffrey: “Because the good Lord has made us…humans are…medications are just crap.”
Reporter: “So, you feel you can just, basically, pull up your bootstraps, and be strong and get through it?”
Despite the services available, Jeffrey Davidson is slipping through cracks: he’s a transient…he’s only been here a couple of weeks, and he’s leaving soon for Columbia where he’ll try to find work and get to know his kids better.
Jeffrey says if he’d been dealt different cards, he’d have gone to college, and paved the way for a better life for his kids.
And when he talks about his kids, he looks like he might cry. But he can’t right now...there’s too much dopamine surging through his brain.
I’m Jennifer Davidson.