Saturday, December 17, 2005

El Dorado County: Under fire for lack of shelter =Saturday, December 17, 2005

Matthew 25:40 “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

El Dorado County: Under fire for lack of shelter =Saturday, December 17, 2005
El Dorado sent woman on 101-mile cab ride to Loaves & Fishes.
By Jocelyn Wiener -- Bee Staff Writer

Story appeared on Page A1 of The Bee

The woman arrived in Sacramento by taxi Tuesday morning, her skin yellowish from cirrhosis, her legs wobbly from a fresh pint of alcohol. She got out in front of Loaves & Fishes, carrying papers from the South Lake Tahoe hospital that paid her fare.

She sat weeping in the director's office, unaware that her 101-mile cab ride - out of one county and into another - would expose a deep concern:

With no full-time homeless shelter in El Dorado County, who would take responsibility for sheltering a woman too weak and unstable to survive on South Lake Tahoe's freezing streets?

Sacramento homeless advocates protested that El Dorado County's leaders were shirking their duty to protect their most vulnerable. Barton Memorial Hospital officials blamed a lack of motel vouchers or a full-time shelter. County officials pointed to a shortage of state and federal funds and said a grass-roots effort among citizens would open a full-time shelter soon.

By Thursday, the 53-year-old woman who Loaves & Fishes staff said was submerged in the end stages of alcoholism had again slipped through the cracks.

Connie Frank, co-director of Maryhouse, a sanctuary for women at the Loaves & Fishes homeless services complex, said the woman arrived around 11 a.m. Tuesday. She emerged from the cab so sick and intoxicated, Frank said, she could hardly walk. The Bee was unable to contact the woman and has chosen not to identify her because of her medical condition.

Frank said the woman had a stack of papers filled out by a social worker at Barton Memorial Hospital, explaining that the hospital could not find any openings in residential alcohol treatment programs, nor could it cover the cost of a local motel.

"Supervisor directed that I explore sending (her) to a homeless shelter in Sacramento," the hospital social worker wrote.

The woman also had come to Loaves & Fishes with a copy of a letter dated Dec. 5 - her 53rd birthday - informing her that she would no longer receive medical care at the Barton Community Clinic, Frank said. She also had nine unfilled prescriptions, Frank said, one of them for the pain medication Vicodin. The unfilled prescriptions particularly infuriated Frank. She said the woman, an El Dorado County resident who depends on Medi-Cal, would have difficulty filling them in Sacramento County.

"That's just deplorable," she said. Hospital staff did not return repeated follow-up calls for comment on this point.

The woman sat down at Frank's desk and burst into tears. She was dying from alcoholism, she said.

"I have no one," Frank recalls her saying. "I have no one."

The woman told Frank she had persuaded the taxi driver to take her to a store, where she had purchased a pint of alcohol. Barton Memorial officials say they had instructed the driver not to stop en route to Loaves & Fishes.

Staff at Maryhouse called police, who transported the woman to an alcohol treatment center run by Volunteers of America. The woman left her prescriptions with Frank for safekeeping. Frank told Tim Brown, the executive director of Loaves & Fishes, what had happened. She was angry that El Dorado County seemed to be shipping its social problems to Sacramento. Brown was angry, too. He called Barton Memorial.

"I see it as an egregious dumping of this client," he explained, later.

The hospital staff saw it differently. They had admitted the woman Dec. 5 and treated her until she was medically cleared to leave. Upon releasing her eight days later, they said they didn't want to kick her onto the freezing streets of South Lake Tahoe. The woman was medically cleared and wasn't complying with various rehab programs, they said. They also said the woman had expressed a desire to be nearer to her father, who is in an Alzheimer's facility "somewhere in Sacramento."

After investigating, the hospital social worker thought sending the woman to Loaves & Fishes, where she could apply for a bed in the winter shelter, seemed to be the best option.

"We don't just dump somebody on the street," said Kathryn Biasotti, director of quality and risk management at Barton Memorial. But the county didn't have resources to help pay for a motel room, she said, and there is no full-time homeless shelter in El Dorado County, nor anywhere near South Lake Tahoe. And there's not enough money for programs to treat the mental health and substance abuse problems that often go hand-in-hand with homelessness.

"There's just lack of funding for services," she said.

John Litwinovich, the director of human services for El Dorado County, said the county provides "extensive services" with extremely limited resources. The county had worked extensively with the woman, trying to help her deal with her problems and find stable housing, he said, citing confidentiality concerns for not providing details.

"It's difficult in a rural county to come up with the kind of funding that is needed to provide shelter for people," he said. Rural counties have a hard time competing for state and federal funding, he said. The county occasionally has funding to provide motel vouchers to the homeless, he said, but doesn't have those vouchers now.

In Placerville, on the western slope of El Dorado County, local residents have begun putting together a shelter program on their own initiative. As of this month, they operate in a church gymnasium three nights a week. The county has not been involved thus far, though Litwinovich said he would be interested in helping them apply for federal grants.

"If the question is: Should we be putting people on a bus or in a taxi as a means of making a problem go away?" Litwinovich said. "No, we should not be doing that at all."

But some of those who work with El Dorado County's poorest residents say there's been a lack of political will to help the local homeless.

"Our county has really ignored the situation, as far as I'm concerned," said Bev Van Meurs, chairwoman of the Placerville-area Salvation Army Committee, and a member of the committee devoted to starting up the church-based shelter.

Last Christmas, Raj Rambob, a real estate agent, and his wife, a high school English teacher, decided to open the shelter. The couple had been looking to volunteer with a homeless organization in Placerville, but couldn't find one.

"I think there's been a sentiment that if we don't acknowledge there's a problem, it will go away," he added.

Rambob is looking to Placer County for guidance.

Two years ago, Placer County didn't have a homeless shelter, either. Then, in December 2003, a Placer County social worker dropped an elderly man with one eye and fused-together fingers in front of Loaves & Fishes. He had discharge papers from a locked psychiatric facility. Tim Brown got angry. He made some phone calls. Soon after, a group of Placer County citizens rolled into action.

"We thought it was scandalous, you know?" said Bill Boudier, a longtime homeless advocate who is now the executive director of The Gathering Inn homeless shelter. Boudier and his cohorts work closely with city and county agencies that provide help for people with mental illness and physical disabilities. They also work with churches, private individuals and local corporations.

"Well, it's all of us," Boudier said. "We're all responsible."

Since the shelter opened last year, Loaves & Fishes officials say they have seen a significant decline in the number of clients being sent by Placer County.

"Placer County was a big offender," Connie Frank said.

Frank didn't see anyone taking responsibility for the 53-year-old El Dorado County woman. So she was preparing to do what she could to help her.

The woman was so sick, Frank said, that she expected her to die in Sacramento County. She planned to check on the woman a few days after sending her to detox.

Frank was alarmed to find out from staff that the woman had already left the detox center. Less than two days after her arrival in Sacramento, she had disappeared.

"Oh, my word," Frank said, when she heard. "Here's the real kicker. She went without her prescriptions."

About the writer:
The Bee's Jocelyn Wiener can be reached at (916) 321-1967 or
Related Weblinks:
Sacramento Loaves & Fishes + Survival Services for the Homeless

Contact Info:
1321 North ‘C’ Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Office: 916/446-0874
Fax: 916/446-0875

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 2161
Sacramento, CA 95812
Sacramento Housing Alliance

Contact Info:
1122 - 17th Street, Suite B
Sacramento, Ca 95814
Ph 916/442-1198
Fax (916) 442-2851
National Alliance to End Homelessness

Contact Info:
K Street NW, Suite 410
Washington, DC 20005
Ph 202/638-1526
National Coalition for the Homeless
Contact Info:
2201 P St NW
Washington, DC 20037
Phone: 202/462.4822
Fax: 202/462.4823
Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee {SHOC} Yahoo Group
Ph 916/442-2156

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