George has no place to go.
He is in his mid-fifties, but mentally something like 12 years-old. He is illiterate and has a slight speech impediment, all of which makes him hard to understand. He is Black, more than six feet tall, and when you don’t understand him, he deals with it by raising his voice. So some people see him as aggressive.
None of that makes it easier for him to navigate society.
He grew up in the Bronx, with a mother who loved him. He had a job unloading trucks, which he could do, and do well. He lived with his family. His world was confined to a few blocks, except for the time they visited his family in North Carolina once and the trip to Montreal. He went to church, where Reverend Kerry was the pastor.
Then his mother died.
When she died, she left him some money – as near as I can tell, about $40,000 – in trust at the bank. He came to North Carolina to stay with his family here. No one is really clear why that didn’t work out, but the end result is – George has no place to go.
So he eventually ended up at our Community Engagement Center, because whatever else we are, we are a place to be for people who have nowhere they are allowed to be.
So George has been part of our community for almost a year now. He is incompetent to handle his own money, so he blew through it really quickly. The bank would send him money in $500 increments, which he would spend on a hotel room, drugs, and sex workers (again, imagine he is 12). Then he would be out on the street until he called the bank and asked them to send him more money.
People on the street figured him out quickly, so when he would get his money, he had a crowd of people who would follow him around, sponging off him until the money ran out.
A few weeks ago, the money ran out.
He is living at the shelter, where he gets a bed, but he gets confused and leaves things there, and they get lost. He calls the bank in the Bronx every day to check his balance, only to be told there is no money there. I know this, because every day, he asks us for the number for this bank, because he can’t remember it. We now have it written on a piece of paper we made copies of, so when he wants it, we just hand it to him.
He can’t understand where the money went, so he tries to make sense of it. He will come into the office.
Oh yeah. Because of who knows why, he calls me Hootie. I have given up on correcting him.
George: What is $1800 plus $250?
George: Plus $250?
George: Plus $250?
This will go on until he gets confused, or I get tired. Then he will look me in the eyes and say, “I done spent all my money, and now I don’t have anywhere to go. I can’t handle money. I need a payee.” And then he will walk back out into the community room.
I think that is perhaps the most frustrating thing for us who know George; he will tell you exactly what he needs.
At least once a day, he will tell us, “I need a payee. I need to live in a group home. I need someone to help me take my medicine.”
And he is right. He needs all of those things.
But what he really needs is someone whose full time job is to help him access services so he can get those things. He needs, in the language of my field, intensive case management.
But that really doesn’t exist much any more.
For months I have been trying to connect him with various organizations. Some of them make him promises they have no way of keeping, (we will get you in a group home next week!) and he gets discouraged and doesn’t trust them any more. Others are far more honest, like the organization that uses wrap-around teams to work with people like George, who told me the other day that in 4-6 weeks, they would have someone free to talk to him, to see if he even qualifies for their services.
Meanwhile, our friend George wanders the streets at night, wondering where his money went, and during the daytime hangs out with us, asking us to do math, asking us when he is moving into a group home, asking us if we will talk to the lady at the bank so she can tell us where the money went, and telling me that maybe he ought to move to Montreal, because it is pretty there.
I bet it is.
Related: We Are Not Fighting Homelessness and So Tired
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