Jeff is homeless and stays at a makeshift “home” in an empty field under a Verizon Wireless billboard. His mother and brother also are temporary residents in this same field. She sleeps in a small pup tent and Jeff and his brother either sleep on a large piece of cardboard or under tarps spread across the limbs of two trees when it rains. This family also shares something else in common, they are all suffering from mental illness.
“Without the Pathways Drop-In Center, I don’t know where I would be or what I would be doing right now, “Jeff said. “It gets me off the streets and keeps me focused on what I need to do,” he continued.
Pathways Drop-In Center is a safe place where Jeff, his family, and others with mental illness can receive help. Located at 30th St. and S. Orange Blossom Trail, the center has helped these members of our community for the over fifteen years.
The rules are strict and there are seven pages of them. But they are designed to make everything easier for everyone who comes to the center. Alcohol and non-prescribed drugs are forbidden and anyone breaking this rule faces a mandatory thirty day suspension from the center. Not everyone has access to the services. Each one applying for access must show documentation of a mental illness or undergo a psychiatric evaluation, usually performed by Lakeside Alternatives Behavioral Health Care.
The center is open from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, Tuesday through Saturday. Complete, hot meals are served at any time during these hours and the center typically sees about sixty qualifying people every day.
Pathways also provides showers, laundry facilities, internet access through several computers, a pool table, telephone access, a television room, a room to rest or nap, and group games and activities. The center also encourages prescribed treatment compliance. The President and CEO of the Pathways Drop-In Center, Nelson Kull, was diagnosed with schizophrenia while in his early teens. Kull is responsible for all facets of the center’s design and financial administration. He presently serves on the consumer panel of the Florida National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the board of the Mental Health Association (MHA) of Central Florida. Kull has also served on the board of the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities in Florida (2001), the Human Rights Advocacy Committee (1997-2000) and the Florida Council on Community Mental Health (1998-2000). Kull receives disability income and does not accept any salary from Pathways.
“Consistency and scheduled events are important factors in the lives of the mentally ill,” Kull explained. “It helps them with daily planning and responsibility.”
Our involvement with the Pathways Drop-In Center began after meeting Lt. Deanne Adams of the Orange County Correctional facility. She heard me discussing homelessness and the mentally ill with Joyce Cooling before her concert at the Mall at Millenia last month. Cooling promoted the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando (NAMIGO) Walk in Maitland the following day. Adams is also a board member of NAMI and a member of the Orange County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT).
CIT is a group of Law Enforcement, Mental Health and Medical professionals, and citizens dedicated to the proper treatment of individuals in crisis. The program provides law enforcement officers special training to help those in crisis and is also a jail diversionary program. After site visit to Pathways, a CIT class took up a collection and purchased a picnic table for the center. The Pathways members “love it and use it daily.”
The Pathways center consists of the primary “community” building and three separate buildings that serve as residential housing for seven mentally ill individuals. These residents are charged $200 per month which includes all utilities. Typically, disability payments total about $650 per month. Conventional housing and other essential expenses usually exceeds this amount.
The residents are free to use the remainder of the money at their discretion. One resident, Edwin, uses the extra money to help fund his college education. He hopes to soon be self-sufficient when he graduates from the interior design degree program at the International Academy of Design and Technology (IADT). Prior to joining the Pathway’s residential program, Edwin was homeless and did not have a high school diploma. As he proudly displayed his drawings and models of home interior concepts, termites fell from the wooden ceiling onto his work. Edwin brushed them off, looked up at us, and smiled, hoping we would understand.
George, who lives in his own apartment, comes to the center for food, support and companionship. Pathways is a “blessing, it brings the whole world together for me,” he said.
May 28, 2008