Yankee Springs Township Supervisor Mark Englerth addresses the Barry County Mental Health Authority board last week regarding his concerns about homelessness in the county.
Yankee Springs Township Supervisor Mark Englerth is speaking out on the issue of homelessness in Barry County, and that problem's possible connection of mental health issues.
“People are falling through the cracks,” Englerth told the Barry County Mental Health Authority board last week. He said the community needs to wrap its arms around the problem of homelessness, and he wants to put together “an army of volunteers” to address it.
“We are family. We are neighbors. We can be successful. We can do a better job. We can own it -- from the churches to everybody (in the community),” he added.
Englerth spoke about a recent situation in his township where people banded together to help an individual who had been causing trouble in Yankee Springs.
“We had a problem with a destructive (person) disturbing the peace,” he said. “We addressed it as a mental health issue, not a criminal issue. We couldn't fix his health problem, but we supported the neighbors.
“The neighbors are now an advocate and support team for his brother that lives next door. The brother and his wife were mentally, psychologically and emotionally exhausted, and only when the neighbors and the community came together did we see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Englerth met Wednesday, Jan. 8, with authority board chairwoman Linda Maupin before speaking to the mental health board the next day. He proposed having a “tear sheet, a set of specs” detailing community resources. This information could be given to people who may be in need of assistance.
“We cannot continue to treat mental health issues as if they're criminal,” he said. “We had an individual that got off his meds. He functioned for 20 years before he got off his meds and went crazy and went to jail for malicious destruction of property.
“When he got out (of jail), he was more traumatized than he was when he went in. He was homeless, without a vehicle and without a job.”
Barry County's Chief Public Defender Kerri Selleck said she's familiar with scenarios like the one Englerth described. She said she often deals with clients who are homeless.
“One of the barriers that we have is, if someone is sitting in jail on a criminal charge and they tell me they're homeless, they don't get out of jail,” Selleck said. “By law, the magistrate can't give them bond. I'm always asking (clients), 'Whose couch are you sleeping on tomorrow? Can I have their address? Do you have a (post office) box?'
“If I can't give the court some physical address, even though they may not be living there, I can't get them out of jail. They shouldn't be sitting in jail because, most of the time, it's a non-violent offense (they're charged with).”
Maupin praised Englerth for coming forward to share his concerns. “He's absolutely right when he said if we could have fixed it, somebody would have fixed it by now. It's going to take years and it's going to take more than one entity. It's going to take more than mental health. It's going to take more than United Way. I think it's great that he's educating us and I do think the things we can do to help, we should do.”
Authority Vice Chairman Robert Nelson suggested connecting with United Way Executive Director Lani Forbes to set up a community discussion on this issue.
“Let's block out a half-day and come together with us, with United Way, and the agencies, what they could bring to the table, and spend the morning talking about how we can collaboratively help (address) this issue,” Nelson said.