Church and Community Resources Combine to Save Homeless Man From Suicide
By Carolyn Cogswell, Topeka Metro Voice
John David Smith, of Sydney, N.Y., has the wholesome good looks and clean-cut appearance of a successful business professional. Looking younger than his 31 years, clean-shaven with neatly cut, curly brown hair, he could easily be mistaken for a college student. In fact, in the fall of 2010, he was attending DeVry University in Kansas City, Mo.
Many variables affect success in college. Students possess varying degrees of self-awareness needed to commit to its rigors. Some students find a good fit with the challenges; others encounter overwhelming expectations.When Smith floundered in his coursework, he turned to a brother in Topeka for help.
After living fro a time with his brother and sister-in-law, Smith moved into an apartment where he could stay in exchange for doing odd jobs. When the jobs grew scarce during the hot Kansas summer, Smith made an unfortunate decision and "got in trouble for stealing copper." For his crime, he served two and a half months in the Shawnee County Jail and was issued one year probation, with ended April 26, 2012.
After Smith's release, he stayed for a time at the Topeka Rescue Mission. First Assembly of God Church, 500 SW 27th St., sponsors "Lunch with Jesus" at 12:30 Saturdays at Garfield Community Center. "Lunch with Jesus" coordinator James Hulbert picks up those Mission residents who wish to attend. Sometime in February, 2011, Smith attended the lunch and gave his heart to Christ.
Academic and legal struggles do not tell the whole story. Smith has a medical diagnosis of degenerative bone disease on vertebrae one, two, three, four, and five and had been unable to walk without pain for 15 years.
In the Parable of the Soils, Jesus spoke of the seed that fell by the wayside. This may explain how Smith "lost his faith." "I kind of walked away and didn't look back," Smith said.
Pain was a lot of the problem. Doctors said a spinal tap could only relieve 60% of the surface pain. After undergoing three spinal tap procedures, Smith said the pain only got worse. Doctors recommended immediate surgery. "I couldn't do much, I couldn't get around," Smith said. "I couldn't afford the surgery."
Lacking resources or initiative, he decided that Friday, April 6, he would commit suicide by jumping off the (SE) 10th Street bridge onto the highway. "For two days before that I cried and prayed, "Please help me," he said. "Please take away the pain."'
As he was getting ready to walk out the door of the residence where he was staying, to carry out his plan, Smith said "something stopped me and made me pick up my phone. Then something made me turn the laptop around and I typed in "hotline". The first thing that popped up on Google was Valeo Behavioral Health Care. I punched in the number and then walked out the door with the phone in my hand. I got down the ramp, stopped at the end, hit 'send' on the cell phone button and put it to my ear."
Smith said he laughed for the first time in a long time when the person from Valeo questioned him when he told him his name. "For real?" said the hotline respondent, "John Smith? Right?" After that they talked for two hours, he said. When he told the counselor about his plan to take his life, Valeo offered him the chouse of going to the hospital or to a Valeo residence. Smith chose the hospital. "I needed meds", he said.
Smith stayed at Stormont-Vail Hospital,Topeka, for five days, then checked into a Valeo residence for three days, and then on Thursday, April 12, went back to Topeka Rescue Mission. On Friday, April 13, Higher Ground Church ministered at the Mission.
"I was not planning on going to church," Smith said. He was in too much pain and could not stand up straight or walk without pain. However, he consented when another resident urged him to go, offering him a seat in a wheelchair that had been donated to the mission the day before. After a long service, a short lesson by a church member, and exhortation by Pastor Russell, several church members prayed for Smith.
Smith said he is now walking without pain, and he ran for the first time in 15 years. "God was in front of me. His Son was behind me," he said. He said he heard God say, "I have you. Stand up. My Son has you. Trust Him."
"I stood up gradually. I could feel the warmth. My spine just aligned," Smith said he believes his healing will only be complete as he continues to walk in the ways of the Lord. "He will be with me, but I have to be willing to take those steps." Steps like participating in the Rescue Mission's one-year Service in Training (SIT) Program. Smith also believes that part of his recovery involves sharing his story. "I have to be willing to share my experience so that I can help people before it's too late. Our time is getting shorter all the time," he said.
"Living with Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery"
A Documentary Film featuring Rebecca; Topeka Writer, Consumer, & Mental Health Advocate
Interview By Jami Nichols
The documentary film Living with Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery was directed by award-winning independent filmmaker Emily Abt, and is dedicated to the approximate two million Americans living with schizophrenia and to the people supporting their journeys of recovery. The film can be viewed at: www.hopeandrecoveryfilm.com.
The film shares three individual's life stories, all of whom have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and are enjoying rich, meaningful lives. How did it feel meeting the others featured in the film and connecting with their experiences?
Rebecca: There are actually three other people that were in the film; Ashley, Josh, and Dave who is an advocate. they all live in Georgia, so we didn't actually meet until the first screening of the film in Atlanta where we gave input to the producers. Then we all met again at the premier of the film in Washington, D.C. in May of 2011. that was when I got to meet Emily, the Director. Ashley, Josh, Emily, Dave, and I were on a speaker panel at the premier. That was just amazing and very exciting! We knew it was a big event that was important. . We got to have dinner at this great restaurant on Capitol Hill called "Art & Soul". So, we've gotten to know each other well. I feel I have a common bond with them. We have all become friends and continue to communicate via Facebook, phone calls and e-mail.
Your quote in the film struck a chord when you said, "I started to accept the illness, but I saw it as what I deal with and what I have, rather than who I am." Your motto now is, "Accept and love your mind." At what point in your recovery did you realize that everyone's brains function differently from one another, and that this is an illness that is manageable?
Rebecca: I began to realize this when I was at KU Medical Center in 2007. I was working with some really cool [Medical School] Residents there who treated my illness like a medical condition, and not a character flaw. I had been hospitalized several times, and hadn't been doing well. The Residents interacted with me very calmly. they did not seem daunted by my symptoms. I would say this is when I began my journey. I began to feel differently about my illness.
You are a published author and professional blogger. How has your writing and work as an advocate and consultant enriched your life?
Rebecca: My blog has enabled me to meet people in the community who are making a difference. It's titled, "Heart of Topeka: People Who Care." I work with all types of individuals and organizations. It is encouraging to see there are so many people who are doing positive things in our community. I often write letters to the newspaper editor about public policy. When people come up and tell me they've read my work, it's encouraging to know that I can write about issues that affect so many people, and I don't have to be a politician to make an impact. That's been very empowering to know that I too can make a difference. It's been a real learning experience to be a client while also becoming an advocate. It's been exciting doing a commercial and documentary while I've had services at Valeo. It's been very rewarding because I get to see people who've impacted my life every day, and yet I get to speak out at the same time. It's been a blessing for me.
Do you feel your work has impacted the lives of others?
Rebecca: It's touching to my heart. There was a time in one of my groups a client that I didn't know yet came up and said she had seen the testimonial commercial I was in. She told me, "You told me to accept and love my mind," and she said, "I'll always remember that". I know that the things I bog about not everyone reads, but some of them do. I can tell sometimes, just by a smile, or a look of hope, that it does make a difference.
What's next for you? Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
Rebecca: I'm working on a book of prayers for people with mental illness. I want to talk about issues people deal with who have a psychiatric disability in daily devotionals. I'm really excited about it, and have talked with a publisher. I'm also a paid mental health consultant for Janssen Pharmaceuticals. I take project assignments as they come. My role with Janssen is to provide public education and advocate about mental health issues, not to promote products.
You had great words of encouragement at our Community Residence Program Family Day event this year. Is there anything you'd like to add for our readers?
Rebecca: The recovery process is a step-by-step journey. When any crisis arises, whether it be financial, legal, or health; know that it will pass. Know that the end of the journey doesn't have to end in pain or disappointment. Enjoy and cherish the time with your family. Celebrate the little triumphs together. Accept your journey and don't judge it.
Winter Weather Threatens Homeless
By Jami Nichols
January 7, 2010
Temperatures in NE Kansas are expected to fall to record breaking lows for the duration of the week. Dangerous wind chills are a risk for Topeka's homeless. The January 2009 Kansas Point in Time Count reported that there are and estimated 1,811 people who are homeless in Kansas.
Doug Wallace, Valeo’s Housing Resource Specialist, says “This population is especially at risk because those who are experiencing mental illness may have impaired judgment to seek shelter. When it gets really cold, many of the people living outdoors will go to the rescue mission or find friends to stay with. In January of 2009 when we did the Point in Time count it was really cold. In Shawnee County at that date, nineteen of the two hundred twenty seven reported homeless were living outdoors without shelter. One in five of those reported homeless were children under the age of 18.”
Valeo’s Homeless Outreach Partnership for Empowerment (H.O.P.E.) Team provides outreach to find services for the homeless in our community. Outreach Case Managers explore camp sites and look for signs of people needing services. As temperatures become life threatening, the H.O.P.E. Team at Valeo is working steadily with Topeka Rescue Mission to keep people safe.
Among Shawnee County’s homeless population, Valeo’s H.O.P.E. Team has worked with two brothers who go by their street names of “Lamb Chop” and “Pork Chop”. Team Leader, Dave Montgomery recalls a recent visit to their campsite when he asked them what they might need to survive these brutally cold temperatures. "They simply asked for a saw and matches to keep warm by fire. So, we took them a saw and matches. They have spent a few nights at the Rescue Mission this week." Pork Chop is now volunteering his time at Let’s Help and often assists the H.O.P.E. Team in identifying and connecting with others in need. His trust in Valeo’s Team has allowed him to receive services he was once skeptical of.
If you would like to help you may drop off blankets, sleeping bags, food, or a monetary donation to “Valeo HOPE Team”, 2401 SW 6th Street, Topeka Kansas.
Methadone: Tragedies on the Rise
By Mike Fowler, LSCSW
May 11th was the one-year anniversary of my nephew Zach’s death from a methadone overdose. He was only eighteen and it was two days before Mother’s Day. Most recovery-field professionals know methadone can be used successfully to treat a person addicted to opiates, like heroin. While methadone can save and help heal, it can also kill.The National Drug Intelligence Center estimated that during the five-year period between 1999 and 204, methadone related poisonings rose 350%. During that same time, methadone related deaths went from 786 in 1999 to nearly 4000 in 2004. By 2005, deaths caused by methadone rose to 4,700 (not including methadone related driving accidents). It is now considered "the #2 killer drug in the US."
The memories of that day in early May remain fresh, visual, visceral. Having rushed to my sister’s house after an ominously vague call from her eldest son, I remember arriving to the confusion of a yet-to-be-confirmed tragedy. Several of Zach’s friends had contacted them with tearful condolences, saying he had died. Police had yet to arrive at this point and just as I was trying to offer some absurd scenario, that maybe this was a prank being played by some of his friends and Zach was fine or in the hospital, a dark-colored sedan turned the corner, judiciously completed a one-eighty and pulled in behind my car. The surreal became even more so, when two official-looking individuals stepped from their car and approached the house. They weren’t in uniform, but I sensed they were law enforcement. One had a clip-board in the crook of his arm. This wasn’t happening: this was some sick prank, right?
At that moment, the surreal turned to real as I met them outside and without thinking blurted out “Is Zach dead?" Grim-faced yet polite, one responded softly “And who are you?" I identified myself as Zach’s uncle and asked my question again, adding Zach’s last name so there would be no mistake. “We are with the Topeka Police Department and..." they gave me the answer I feared was coming. I knew the sobs and moans coming from inside the house would take on a deeper, more concrete, though no-less surreal, nature once they confirmed Zach’s death.
While other family members received similar calls from Jake, Zach’s oldest brother, none had yet arrived. Knowing I could not stave off the inevitable, I ushered the two officers into the living room. It now seems odd, but I couldn’t bear to give the news myself, so I just said they were from the police department and they had news about Zach, or something to that effect. A mother’s anguish is palpable, profound, in situations like these. Jake did what he could to comfort her as the wails intensified and the “my baby” screams pitched across the yard as I followed the officers from the house.
“Acute methadone intoxication” was what they told me. Details were sketchy, but the night before there was a get-together, methadone made an appearance, an impulsive act occurred, and by morning Zach, as we knew him in life, was no longer. The family hasn’t been the same and I cannot begin to describe what Zach’s Mom, Dad and brother have gone through this past year.
The two police officers, both of whom I can no longer name, but one bore a striking resemblance to the comedian Drew Carey were respectful, polite and yes, caring when delivering the devastating news. Just prior to their departure and upon thanking them for their professionalism and compassion, the Drew Carey look-alike said to me, “I’ve been doing this for many years and this is as hard as the first one I did." Tears seem to well in his eyes as if to rival my own. Then the one with the seemingly doleful eyes, looked down and pointed at my Valeo ID badge, commenting “Seeing where you work, you know what it’s like to work with people in pain. I can’t quite say exactly why or how, but that final exchange with those two offices was comforting somehow. Maybe it was the tenderness in which their comments were shared or that it touched upon why many people choose helping professions as their careers; me being one. Or maybe because it was true. Yes, as mental health and addiction recovery professionals, we work with people experiencing pain on a myriad of levels. And if we are successful, we can aid our customers in processing and circumventing that pain.
As previously-mentioned, methadone tragedies and near-fatalities are on the rise in this country. Some believe this is because it is increasingly being used as a pain-killer and not just replacement therapy for opiate addiction. Methadone is a pain-killer? I doubt Zach’s parents would agree.
Many don’t realize that a single dose, in tablet or liquid form, can be toxic (with or without tragic results) for someone who has not yet built up a tolerance for the drug. Too, methadone can interact adversely with other medications and can remain in the body for over two days. This can trigger an accumulative effect by building up in someone’s system and becoming toxic over a stretch of time.
For more information, including a heart-wrenching video in which Zach has been included, go to the HARMD (Helping America Reduce Methadone Deaths) website at www.harmd.org. May is National Mental Health Month, which I used to take note professionally, but now it has taken on a more personal meaning in light of what transpired a year ago. May 11th will always be a mournful day for our family. This year, it just so happened to fall on Mother’s Day. Something a mother should never have to experience.