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Mothers protest over lack of housing for mentally ill

No room: Mid-Atlantic Wellness Centre patients cannot stay at the facility longterm (Photograph supplied)

Care for the mentally ill has been described as “dire” and “a disgrace“ by the mothers of two men who are struggling to find permanent homes.

The mothers, who have asked not to be named, said government agencies repeatedly failed to find solutions, creating “a vicious circle” of desperation.

Both men have had treatment during short-term stays at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute, but the facility does not provide long-term accommodation.

The mothers said their sons could not live with them and they had been told that other agencies and charities were not accepting clients.

One mother was told by health officials that Langley House in St David’s, which is run by the Bermuda Housing Corporation, does have vacancies – but the facility is not suitable because of rampant drug use.

In a letter written earlier this month to her MP, public works minister David Burch, one mother said: “MAWI and social services have been well aware of the situation for months/years and yet keep saying there is no government accommodation available.

“Even the Salvation Army where he has spent time is unavailable. The situation is dire and I am pleading with you to help me find accommodation for him. Your mission statements says ‘Every Bermudian should reasonably expect to have a safe and adequate place to live’, yet anyone with a serious mental illness is denied this expectation.

“People are better off in jail where they get fed and a roof over their head. Is the Government trying to force these mentally disabled people into criminal activity to survive?

“It is all such a vicious circle and the failure of proper mental healthcare in Bermuda is a disgrace. Anywhere else in the Western world you would get support in numerous forms after being discharged with mental health issues. Here the support is non-existent once released.

“We have tried everything to find accommodation privately but as they are unemployed and without references it has been a complete failure due to the current rental housing crisis. They both need help from the Government to prevent them from being on the streets.

“I am again living in constant fear day and night. If my son had some accommodation he could focus on getting a job and getting his life sorted but being homeless will inevitably lead to desperate acts.”

The second mother, in a letter that was forwarded to Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said: “Finding housing for my son has proven impossible for me, after months of trying through contacting advertised rental properties, Bermuda Housing Corporation, Mental Health Foundation, MAWI, Dignity House, Financial Assistance, word of mouth etc.

“The task to find accommodation by my son for himself is out of his realm of capabilities and due to his disability he has no references, no job and therefore no hope to secure accommodation.

“The only option given by MAWI is Langley House where it has been openly expressed by several aforementioned government entities that open and visual drug use exists there. Does this mean marijuana? Cocaine? LSD? Heroin?

“Drug use at Langley House seems to be the reason it is reluctantly suggested and that information has been freely spoken about.

“There must and needs to be a solution that does not include housing a vulnerable person in this known environment. The housing crisis is real. Family support is critical and my son is supported to the best of our capabilities. Where is the housing for Bermuda’s population with a severe mental illness? Does it exist?

“I truly see why families give up and why vulnerable persons end up on the street.

“Many organisations and people are doing great things for a variety of people in the community that are in need. However, there is a huge gap when it comes to housing, jobs and care for individuals like my son. I’d be surprised if there aren’t many more in this situation.”

When contacted by The Royal Gazette, Beverly Daniels, the executive director of the Salvation Army confirmed that its emergency housing shelter was not accepting referrals – but only because an expansion programme had temporarily reduced the number of beds available.

The centre normally has accommodation for 26 men and ten women. But that number has been reduced to 12 male residents while construction work gets under way. Once the renovations have been completed by the end of the summer, the facility will be able to accommodate 60 residents.

Desiree O’Connor, the support services manager for the Bermuda Housing Corporation, did not respond to requests for comment by press time last night.

Government responds - and the mothers hit back

The Royal Gazette e-mailed questions for the attention of David Burch and Kim Wilson to the Government’s department of communications on Monday. On Tuesday evening, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health issued the following statement: “The safety of clients is a central concern to the Minister and the team of professionals who provide these services. Specific allegations were made, and when the concerns were raised to the Ministry of Health, a request was sent to the Bermuda Hospital Boards Board to review the concerns related to clients' wellbeing. Upon review, the Minister is confident there are measures to mitigate such occurrences.

“MWI partners with external service providers such as Langley House, and they provide valuable resources to those vulnerable individuals in our community.

“We have patients who are housed at Langley House who are supported by our team at MWI and the staff at that residence. Therefore, we feel comfortable having our patients housed there.

“Additionally, the Minister of Health did advise the technical officers to make contact with the complainant to ensure any concerns have been addressed and how best the complainant can be assisted in this regard. That contact has been made to address the concerns.

“A review of Bermuda’s mental health system was conducted by the Pan American Health Organization and Public Health England and was completed in November 2019 which included such recommendation as reinvigoration of rehabilitation and other daycare services, develop a recovery-oriented rehabilitation care pathway for service users with severe and enduring mental illness and complex needs and greater integration of mental health services into the community.

“A key element of the plan recommends community- (as opposed to hospital-) based outpatient and rehabilitation services, transitioning long-stay patients to community residences, increasing the versatility and adaptability of community mental health teams, and integrating mental health services into primary care and the general hospital.

“The community-based model embraces the worth and rights of all individuals, including those with mental illnesses, as well as the protection of vulnerable persons. It requires a holistic approach in which service users are seen as equal partners to whom support is offered with the objective of assisting them to achieve their highest level of self-actualisation.

“This may include psychosocial rehabilitation, other psychological and social support or biological treatments- all of which should take place with a recovery orientation. In order to be effective, the approach must have access to appropriate resources, e.g. qualified staff, means for social support. This may require the shifting of resources from mental hospitals to communities.

“Hospitalisation, when necessary, should be brief and in a general hospital setting. Residential rehabilitation may also be helpful in some instances, e.g. in recovery from substance use disorders. An ongoing evaluation of services is useful for gauging progress being made in achieving the ideal model for mental healthcare.

“Since October 2021, the Director of Mental Health (BHB) and the Director of Health (Ministry of Health) have identified existing health facilities (DoH Clinics) so that mental health outpatient clinics and rehabilitation activities are rostered into currently unused times in Hamilton Health Centre. The execution of the partnership and formation of the satellite location of the mental health services not only forms a large part of meeting the recommendations, it also assist in normalising and destigmatises those with mental health challenges.”

That response was dismissed by both mothers, who described it as “unreal”.

One mother said: “They have actioned none of the suggestions except to reduce hospitalisation time. The final paragraph refers to ‘identifying’ clinics in October 2021 – but where are the actual services? Not a single outpatient service has ever been mentioned to us.

“What the other mother has told you about drugs at Langley House is exactly what they told me separately – so the references they make to Langley are just outright lies.”

The second mother added: “This is just completely vacant. It doesn’t say anything at all, it’s just marshmallow fluff.

“They seem more concerned about denying the claims about drugs at Langley House, but that’s not the issue – the issue, is where are our sons going to live?

“This doesn’t answer that question. It’s grossly inadequate and fails to identify a solution. It’s a whitewash. We feel like we’re going around in circles, banging our heads against a brick wall.“

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Published May 19, 2022 at 7:54 am (Updated May 19, 2022 at 7:54 am)

Mothers protest over lack of housing for mentally ill

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