Doreen McGettigan joins me in the Storage Room this morning to talk about her experience caring for a homeless woman. The plight of the mentally ill is a topic near and dear to my heart, so I am thrilled to host Doreen today.
When my husband called one night and asked if he could bring a woman home with him, naturally I was shocked. He went on to tell me she had nowhere else to go. Because I didn’t want to sound like a cold, mean person I reluctantly said okay.
When Sophie walked through my front door that first night, I was horrified. She was 80-years-old and frail. I wondered what she possibly could have done to deserve being left homeless. It was the end of October and in the Philadelphia suburbs, it was cold especially at night. Was she an alcoholic, drug addict, mentally ill or all of the above?
Not that long ago when our relatives had mental health, addiction or dementia problems we cared for them in our homes or we committed them to an asylum. When atrocities taking place in many of those asylums, mostly the state or government run facilities, were brought to our attention the facilities were shut down. I don’t think anyone would argue those places were horrific. It only became a problem when the doors were literally opened and the patients walked out. They were given an outfit, $25 and an appointment with a psychologist. Most never showed for their appointments and our countries homeless problem and mental health epidemic was created.
Sophie ended up living with us for 2 ½ years. We tried to find housing and assistance for her but had no luck. She was not a drinker, didn’t do drugs but she did struggle with mental illness and was definitely born with some sort of developmental delay.
It took a long time to locate some of her family members. Once we found them they basically said they washed their hands of her. I understood their frustration but she was their mother not mine. I was frustrated too but would never leave someone related to me, especially someone her age out in the cold.
I won’t pretend to know what the answer is but I do know the simple solution to homelessness is homes. Once housed, services can be set in place to address addiction, mental health, health, employment and financial issues. Believe it or not, providing an apartment and a social worker for a year cost less than several visits to the emergency room, jail or shelters. Apartments not Jail programs are being initiated in 13 states. Is yours one of them? If not, I hope you will call your local government and request they start one.
What do you think?
- Perform one act of kindness for the homeless or the mentally ill, and if it feels good, make it a habit.
- Start a conversation at your dinner table on the topic of ending homelessness and then start the same conversation with a stranger.
- Send an e-mail to your town council, mayor, congressional representative, and senator and ask them what they are doing to end homelessness and how they feel about apartments and not jails or ERs for the homeless.
Follow the conversation about Sophie’s Challenge with #sophieschallenge #thestrangerinmyrecliner
As much as I felt we were getting to know Sophie and it was starting to feel like she was just another one of our crazy relatives there was still so much that we didn’t know about her. After more than two years how was it possible that she was still very much the stranger in our recliner?
Doreen McGettigan is an award-winning blogger, Ghostwriter, teacher and an author.
She sits on the executive board of the Press Club of Pa. chairing and facilitating their professional development workshops.
Doreen is an advocate for victims of all crimes, especially the elderly and the homeless who are hesitant to report that they have been victimized. She speaks and writes about how to avoid being a victim or a perpetrator of road rage and what you can do that will actually help the homeless.
Her second book The Stranger in My Recliner [January 2016] is the true story of Sophie, an 80-year-old homeless woman that Doreen and her husband John took in and cared for, for 3-years.
Her first book, Bristol boyz Stomp [TATE 2012] is the true story of her brother’s random road rage murder. She lives in Delaware County, Pa. just south of Philadelphia with her husband. They have six kids and 13 grandkids, so far. Their lives are not boring.
She can be found at www.doreenmcgettigan.com.
In anticipation of Escape Plan coming out in April, I am running a Goodreads Giveaway for a print copy of the first book in the Overlook series. Remember, anyone who signs up for my newsletter will also receive a copy of the ebook.