This past week my family had a COVID scare. One of my son’s workers (some of you may know my son has disabilities and a crew of folks that support him) tested positive for COVID. And while my son and people with him wear masks and wash their hands a million times a day– my son has to quarantine and some of his service providers won’t work with him until he tests negative.
When you have a disability that requires the support of others so that you are able to function day-to-day, there are a lot of logistics involved: hiring/training people, scheduling, ongoing training, problem-solving, budgeting, payroll, etc… It still amazes me when a year goes by and it works out, despite feeling sometimes like life is a Jenga game– a complex tower of interconnected wooden blocks — and at any moment one piece could get pulled and the whole thing could collapse. That one piece could be losing a job, getting a cancer diagnosis, a hurricane destroying your home, or testing positive during a global pandemic.
At work this week I was part of an email chain where the staff was discussing one of our tenants who had been exposed to COVID, how the tenant was quarantining, and how our team was coordinating food drop-offs. Reading that email I experienced such a surge of gratitude. Gratitude that the tenant was not alone. Gratitude that hard-working, dedicated staff at my organization are tirelessly supporting people around the state who are in need. Gratitude for every person that believes community means all of us. That we are all in this together. And some of us need more support than others.
It is January. The Vermont State Legislature will be in session soon. Virtually of course. I will do what I have done every year for the past 6+ years. I will update my facts and figures, create colorful graphs, write up success stories, and reach out to service recipients for folks who might testify to help educate our legislators about our work. I will bolster myself in preparation for the public speaking that will come because, despite the years of practice, coaching, and therapy, it is extremely anxiety-provoking for me to speak in front of people, particularly if it is about something I care deeply about.
I will do all this in hopes of being considered for renewed and additional funding so that Pathways Vermont can continue to be there for people in need. That seems simple enough. We are good at our work that can often be complicated and challenging. We do things inexpensively (mostly because we have to, but we are also good at doing a lot with a little). And our staff ensures that people get relief. They get housed. They find community. But we’re doing this in half of Vermont counties when there is a need for Housing First services in all counties.
In Vermont, we have a system of care. We have 11 Designated Agencies around the state that provide a full range of services from mental health, substance use, and developmental services. We also have a handful of what we call “Specialized Service Agencies” that fill in the gaps.
Pathways Vermont is a “Specialized Service Agency.” We work with people that have serious challenges including homelessness. Our distinctive approach is to work with people that are not able to work with the Designated Agency in their region.
Every community in Vermont has a handful of adults with mental health and other challenges that, for whatever reason, are not willing to work with the local Designated Agency. They are living in the woods, they frequent emergency rooms, the police know them well. Every single one of them has a disability and a history of trauma.
I am tired. I am tired of what at times feels like pleading. Pleading with our state government, begging our legislators, to help us help these vulnerable – the most vulnerable -people in need.
Tonight my son’s COVID test came back negative. Tonight I will watch a new episode of a French show I like called Spiral and drink a glass of wine. Tonight I will probably sleep less restlessly and tomorrow… well who knows what tomorrow may bring? Maybe someone will read this blog and call our Governor and ask why we are not fully funding Housing First services in every county, and continue to advocate for Pathways Vermont and its dedicated staff who are not only on the frontlines of this pandemic providing housing and mental health services, but who will be essential to supporting the community – my neighbors and yours – once this crisis is over. And who knows, maybe he will listen. Tonight feels like a night to end on that hopeful note.