Poverty touches every area of life for members of The Well Community. Program Coordinators Ericka Ruiz and Gemma Cardenas continually see how lack of resources tie the hands of those living with serious mental illnesses, preventing them from pursuing recovery.
“Poverty definitely effects [Well Community members] in every way,” Gemma shares. She’s served on the staff of The Well since spring of 2018 and previously completed an internship there. In these roles she has witnessed the daily impact on members as they try to manage mental illness without basic life resources. For example, many don’t have the means to get healthy meals and often rely on what they’re able to find or what is given to them. Lack of nutrition takes a toll not only on their physical health but on their mental wellbeing too. In addition, many aren’t able to see a doctor because they don’t have transportation to appointments or health insurance. As a result, physical issues often go untreated, which in turn has a negative effect on their ability to pursue mental health stability.
Ericka, who’s served at The Well for the past three years, explains that the physical, mental and emotional aspects of health impact one another. “If you don’t feel good physically, that affects you mentally and emotionally. It’s like a cycle.”
Gemma adds that the stress, anxiety and pressure many members face due to being homeless or living on a very low income all challenge their mental wellbeing. “They’re surviving. They’re thinking about the moment. … They’re thinking, ‘How am I going to survive and get my next meal?’ All of that affects their mental health.”
Lack of access to technology often adds another layer of struggle. Those living with serious mental health challenges are rarely able locate computers or know how to find online assistance and information. Yet, applications and forms must often be completed online—a significant hurdle for those who don’t own a laptop or smartphone or have access to the internet, Gemma says. “They don’t have technology; they don’t have computers. We offer that here, but outside of The Well they don’t have that.”
Without a way to search for and apply for jobs, those who are able to work remain unemployed, stuck in poverty and forced to continue in the cycle of mental, physical and emotional struggles. “It’s a long-term issue because they’re not working,” Gemma explains. “These are the realities of mental illness. It’s something they deal with on a daily basis.”
But, while there’s no cure for serious mental illnesses and no easy path out of poverty, those who struggle with these conditions can take steps toward stability thanks to the resources available at The Well Community. Through offering case management services, nutritious meals and a safe, stable and welcoming community, The Well helps individuals in the Dallas area address some of the many challenges of this ongoing cycle.
For example, Well Community member Anthony regularly helped out at The Well, handling tasks like taking out the trash, cleaning and doing odd jobs. The Well wanted to move him into a staff position, but he didn’t have a social security card. Ericka and Gemma determined to help him get one—a complicated task as Anthony lacked any form of ID. “It was a long process,” Gemma recalls. But, the women persisted, assisting Anthony in each of the numerous steps to acquire the documentation he needed. He’s now a paid member of The Well’s staff.
Gemma shares that it was almost impossible for Antony obtain a social security card on his own due to the complexity of the system. Without resources like those available at The Well to help them, Anthony and many living with mental health challenges face nearly insurmountable obstacles in obtaining documentation or applying for assistance. “They’re not able to do it on their own and a lot of times they just give up,” Gemma says. In addition, the cost of applications and forms often stands in the way as well.
Ericka explains such systems can actually make it harder for someone to get ahead. “It’s very hard to get anything done, so most of them give up. I wish more people understood that it’s not that they’re lazy.”
“A lot of them are unable to get a job, go to school, have a career because of the resources that they lack. They all have a story to tell,” Gemma adds. “They’ve all been through something in their lives that has led them to where they are now. They’re not just deciding to be this way.”
Ericka and Gemma encourage those who want to make a difference in the lives of those dealing with the challenges of mental illness and poverty to volunteer at The Well. In doing so they can can provide practical assistance but also gain understanding. “We invite people to just come and help, or just come and be with us,” Gemma says, “so they can become more familiar with what it’s like to live with a mental illness.”
Ericka emphasizes the importance of learning about mental illnesses, not just from an article online but directly from individuals struggling with them. “The best way to educate yourself is to go straight to the issue, to the person that’s dealing with it.” Both agree that being more open-minded is vital as well.
“Listen to them and get to know them,” Gemma urges. “It’s really not easy for them. … The system is just not easy to access and process. … They’re just like us. We’re all just the same, we’re all humans.”
Serving at The Well Community is an excellent way to gain a better understanding of mental illness, poverty and those who are affected by these struggles. We’re always looking for new volunteers! Contact us to learn how you could use your talents to come alongside members of The Well.
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