INTERFAITH MINISTRIES: We all worry about John (op-ed)

April LaFollette and Julie Edwards | Dec 15, 2019

April LaFollette and Julie Edwards

John has issues: mental health issues, drug addiction issues, homelessness issues. Like many of our city’s homeless population, John has a dual diagnosis of mental illness exacerbated by self-medication with illegal drugs.

John generally walks the streets at night, moving from Oxford to Anniston and back again. When he sleeps at night, it is in various locations — sometimes in abandoned buildings, sometimes in the open air.

John receives a small disability check, so at the beginning of the month, he sometimes splurges for a motel room for a night or two. Then it is back to the streets.

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John comes to Interfaith Ministries of Calhoun County most mornings at opening to get a cup of coffee and a snack for breakfast. He showers here on Mondays and Thursdays. John sleeps under a hallway table near the restrooms at Interfaith. It’s safer to sleep here during the day than in the open.

John keeps several bags here stashed in a corner, behind the door. His mental illness regularly compels him to take everything out of his bags and refold, reorganize his meager belongings. On folding days, you can tell the mania is upon him.

John is a patient of our local mental health department. Some days John is calm and speaks politely, going about his business. Some days he is in such a manic state his words trip over themselves in vast incoherent rambles as he battles the demons living deep inside his mind.

All the nonprofit service agencies in town know John, love John, worry about John. When we meet for various functions and our discussions turn to our mutual clients, as they always seem to, we always include the latest news of John. 

Will this be the week he is a victim of violent crime? Will this be the week he goes off on a manic tangent and injures someone or commits a crime?

John gets his mail at Interfaith Ministries. This week an orange postcard came for John stating he has 72 hours to respond to a warrant for his arrest in Oxford. John says they have given him 72 hours; he’s going to take every one of them before turning himself in.

John, like many of the other homeless neighbors in our area, is without family to look after him and help him make good decisions. If Anniston had a permanent homeless shelter, we could provide case management for John to make sure he is making his appointments and taking his medication. The shelter staff could work in conjunction with the Mental Health Department and court to develop a plan for John.

A permanent homeless shelter in Anniston would provide a place for our homeless residents to live while acquiring the life skills for independent living in a safe environment. We dream of a shelter with case managers who assist folks to move from living on the streets to transitional housing to independent living. It’s a dream, but not an unreachable dream. Agencies in Anniston have been working on it, and caring residents working with city officials who believe it is a priority can make this happen.

In the meantime, when John turns himself in for his warrant, at least we will know he is safe — for a while. 

April LaFollette is the executive director of Interfaith Ministries of Calhoun County. Julie Edwards is the co-director of Meals on Wheels for Interfaith Ministries and assists in the Emergency Assistance program.

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