For many of the 43.8 million people in America who struggle with mental health difficulties each year, the challenges of life just pile up. Mental illnesses, along with the tragic overlay of stigma, can contribute to other issues that make everyday living a grueling existence. At The Well Community we regularly assist members in confronting addictions and addressing concerns such as medical conditions, homelessness and poverty, any of which, without help, multiplies the sense of confusion and hopelessness.
Amid the poverty and through the challenges, The Well Community offers a place where adults with severe mental health conditions can find support. “We provide a community of hope and healing to these individuals. We give them an opportunity to gain dignity and self-worth, and encourage them to not give up on a system that makes hope seem scarce,” says Executive Director Alice Zaccarello.
Without care from family and friends, or without support from groups like The Well, many with severe mental health issues experience the compounding effects of poverty. They know how poverty cuts a deep gorge into possibilities for recovery. Those who have fallen under the weight of poverty have done so under a complex social system that has limited success in addressing basic needs.
In order to gain employment, one must show a government-issued identification (ID) to prove residency. However, when poverty results in homelessness, people often don’t have a photo ID, because that requires an address. They don’t have an address because they don’t have a job to pay for housing.
Aside from the ID challenge, employment is often out of reach for those living with severe mental illnesses. Health issues prevent them from doing manual labor; cognitive impairment can impede successful management of routine tasks; limited education closes many doors.
There are a few government programs that help with some financial needs. Those who are unable to work and who don’t have a work history can qualify for Social Security Insurance (SSI), which usually caps at $750/month. However, the process of getting SSI usually takes many months, and in some cases it can take years to be cleared as an eligible candidate. If an individual does acquire SSI and can find stable living arrangements, upward of 70 percent of the money is often spent on rent alone. That leaves little for food, personal care or medications that are critically needed for stability.
“It’s hard for our members to dream outside of survival,” says The Well Community’s Program Coordinator Ericka Ruiz. “They can’t look to the future or have goals because, for most of them, their biggest concern is where the next meal is going to come from. It’s a four-hour-at-a-time mentality.”
Technology also creates a gap in our society for those who live in poverty. Most jobs require a phone number or email as a form of contact. And while many who live with serious mental health challenges qualify for government-sponsored basic phones, these are easily lost or stolen. For those who do have a phone, access to computers is limited to local libraries, which require an ID for use. This blocks the possibility of filling out online applications or checking email if jobs require it. One of the services The Well provides its members is access to computers, basic training on how to use them and assistance in setting up email.
Members of The Well Community who are able to find housing are often presented with options that feel unsafe or are unhealthy (mold problems, violent neighborhoods, etc.). Some places don’t give access to kitchens or provide refrigerator space to keep perishable food fresh. This impedes possibilities for healthy eating. Further, few deaing with severe mental health conditions are able to maintain relationships or achieve lasting stable behavior and so the need to find another housing situation is often looming. When moves are necessary, any personal belongings have to be left behind because of the lack of money to put their belongings in storage, hire someone to move their possessions or find transportation to relocate their property themselves. And, then they have to start all over, again, each time they move.
To help address housing needs for their members, The Well Community runs Jacob’s House, a City of Dallas licensed boarding house. Jacob’s house provides not only a safe place to stay, but also offers nutritious meals, friendship and support for eight men who live with mental health challenges.
As mentioned above, housing situations can be a huge barrier to good nutrition, yet healthy eating is a critical element in mental health recovery. Poverty can prevent people from being able to buy good food. If they can’t buy food, some resort to digging through trash. This causes other problems for the individual: putting themselves in trespassing/illegal situations and consuming spoiled food that makes them sick and unwell.
However, through the generosity and service of volunteers and donors, The Well provides a nutritious meal Monday through Thursday, ensuring that members have access to healthy diet at least a few times a week.
The staff and volunteers of The Well Community meet more than just survival needs. They provide a community and support system for people who have no one else. “Because we meet their first need, which is food, they open up to us and share their personal lives, allowing us to fill their psychological and relational needs as well,” explains Amber, a social work intern.
The effects of the poverty cycle can be eased for members of The Well Community through generous donations and willing volunteers. Consider how you can take part. Contact us today, or give your gift now.