Sitting calmly at a desk in the lush, plant-filled downtown library in Reno, but still in disbelief at how her life has been in a tailspin in recent months, Melinda is organizing folders and papers with different headings and letterheads marking her recent past : drug tests, Restart, appointments with case managers, therapy sessions… One of them stings the most. In bold the words jump out … “officially discharged from the CABHI program.”
Kicked Out of the CABHI Program
Melinda was a housing recipient from a program meant to help the homeless with both addiction and mental health issues. The 46-year-old Ohio native says she feels she was set up to fail after she moved into her new apartment in the fall of 2015. She’s homeless again, and after both her parents died while she was in the program, and she had subsequent mental and physical health problems, Melinda, a former heroin addict, slipped back into drugs.
“My dad passed away last year, and then a few months later my mom passed away and as all addicts I went back to what I knew and started using meth for a few months, but I’m always the honest one. I’m always the one that tells them first. I got a hold of my therapist and told them — hey this is what I’m doing. This is what’s up.” She said she had been told CABHI wasn’t a program where a failed drug test meant you were out.
“A part of addiction is relapse. We were told this grant, you won’t get kicked off because you are using.”
Not Your Typical Media Success Story
Programs to help our most vulnerable often get attention when they are launched or when there is an early success story, but rarely get scrutinized for their shortcomings. CABHI is an acronym for Cooperative Agreements to Benefit Homeless Individuals. It’s run through SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Here’s part of a recent writeup from the Daily Herald newspaper in central Utah about CABHI : …The program bypasses the red tape of other government programs, and finds one-bedroom apartments for homeless individuals. But it doesn’t stop there — the program provides them with in-home mental illness counseling, substance abuse interventions, even regular medical care...
A recent Connecticut NPR-affiliate story was headlined “Sal Pinna Finally Finds a Home”. It’s about a CABHI beneficiary who’d been on the streets for two decades. He is quoted as saying: "I’ll feel ten times better when I have the keys in my hand. The nightmare will be over, let’s put it that way.”
More Support Needed
For Melinda, who wasn’t homeless very long, getting into CABHI has meant more nightmares.
“It was a new start, a new beginning,” she says looking back on the program which she’s now been discharged from. “I thought this is the chance, the helping hand I needed. All of us who got into CABHI here thought we were going to get support. We thought we were going to get encouragement. We thought we would be given the tools in order to fulfill our dreams. We did get housing, but we were also out in the elements on our own, and at what price? There were never any words of encouragement or support. We didn’t get help during rough times. A lot could have been changed if there was just that little bit of support.”
Accountability for Failures
Melinda wonders if case managers should be held accountable. She worries about programs held in high esteem on a national level but which can be badly managed locally. She’s concerned about how some of the housing is chosen, and whether there is proper screening of places where the formerly homeless are housed.
Melinda often pipes up on social media. She’s becoming a web activist, with new work in progress websites to showcase her journey and concerns. She’s also started going to public meetings to make her feelings known.
Melinda says she’s not bothered by the blowback which may come from the small group of people whose job it is to help the homeless in Reno.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t want to say anything because they are afraid of losing their housing… But right is right and wrong is wrong,” Melinda says. “If appointment dates are unclear or changed without telling us, or they make us wait several hours and we leave, or if we leave voice mails saying we can’t go, we get penalized but what about the case managers? There’s a whole group of people living in fear. The CABHI program is for those with some kind of mental diagnosis. But what happened was that case managers could add stress and anxiety rather than help. And it was much harder than we thought it would be. Wasn’t this program meant to help us?”
This is part 2 of an Our Town Reno investigation into Melinda’s difficult life, and the help she hoped she would be getting, but which fell short of her expectations.
You can read part 1 of her story here.
Stay tuned for part 3.