Hope at the end of the tunnel?

There have been so many times that my nephew has told family members what they want to hear only to realize that it is what drug addicts do to get what they want. I am trying to be open minded and believe that this time it is different and he is on his way to recovery and a more meaningful life. There are many signs that this is true, but there are so many obstacles that are still there.

He is living in an older motel in Cherry Hill that seems to be a go to short term housing solution for our Social Services system. It isn’t an efficiency, so there are no stoves or microwaves. That means that his hot meals are meals that can be created by the hot water in his room. Getting food is also a problem because he has mobility problems and there aren’t any stores that he can just walk to and buy groceries. There is a WAWA and a McDonalds in his walking range, but that isn’t an answer to his food issues. I keep up with him through the phone they provided to him and that is a great improvement. However, he still only reaches out when he wants something.

When there is an extended time between calls and texts, I have tendency to expect the worse, but I am trying to be more positive and believe he is becoming more self sufficient. I also know that he is bipolar and sometimes he does things that are impulsive and not in his best interest. When my wife and I talked about his situation, we realized that he doesn’t seem to have any friends and he has very distant relationship with family members. That by itself seems to be a very difficult thing to know and navigate.

The calls and e-mails from his case manager have dried up and I guess I need to start contacting them again to see what is happening from their point of view. Has he met their goals and is he now in the next stage where he is expected to be more independent? Has he moved on to another case manager? What is the plan other than just living at the motel? They indicated that he was eligible for housing. Is the motel the housing that they promised or is there actually a more independent housing alternative that will become available. I am not sure so I need to reach out and see how he is doing officially.

How do you help a drug addict (continued)?

A fellow teacher gave me a book to read that was written to the families of drug addicts. It stressed how enabling the drug addict didn’t help, and in fact, just continued the cycle. It seemed as though the book and my fellow teacher were telling me to let my nephew hit bottom and wait until he really asked for help. It was tough love and it seemed very cold and it was difficult to accept, but I tried it.

It was almost winter in 2019 and I got a call from my nephew asking me to come see him at the hospital. He was now HIV Positive and suffering from a number of medical conditions. He was scared and was telling me he didn’t want to die on the streets of Camden. There was a very positive social worker that was helping him and she asked me if I would come to a meeting with his team. Because he was HIV Positive, there were some programs that were available to him and a chance for housing for him. It seemed like things were finally gong in the right direction.

He was given temporary housing at a motel in Cherry Hill and he had a specific plan that he had to follow. Obviously, staying drug free was part of that plan, but I really didn’t know all of the requirements. My cousin, my wife and I brought him food and other things he needed to start making it on his own. He seemed positive and focused. He was saying all of the right things and we were all hopeful. Unfortunately, he violated his plan, was told to vacate the motel room and he was once more homeless on the streets of Camden and back on drugs. At this point we all felt that it was hopeless and expected to receive a call or some notice that he was found dead somewhere and we were being notified as next of kin.

Fast forward to August of this year. I tried to contact him with limited success during the winter and spring of 2020. He appeared on Facebook as a friend request during the beginning of summer and I received a text from him. He later called me looking for money. I was rather short with him when he called at 8 pm and asked me to bring him money to Camden. About a week later I felt bad about that last conversation and tried to call him. Someone answered and told me they didn’t know anyone named Aaron. This is how things work when you try to keep track of an homeless person on drugs. I could have driven to Camden and look for him, but that hardly ever worked.

Aaron was once again somewhere in Camden, homeless and I had no way to contact him. Shortly after that, I got a call from him and he was in the hospital with another medical problem. However, this was different. He sounded different and it was difficult to believe it was him because he seemed so focused. He gave me the names of his client navigator and a representative of another agency that was helping him increase his SSI benefit. He asked me if I could come to Camden and meet with his support team. Then he asked me a question that I never expected: “Uncle Frank, Karl believes I will be getting a retro check and I wanted to know if you would manage it for me? If I get the money, I would probably buy drugs and end up killing myself.”

Surprised and not sure if this was even possible, I followed up with Karl and he verified that it was quite possible. A meeting was set with his support team and I went to Camden to attend the meeting.

How do you help a drug addict?

That is a question that my family has debated for the last 30 years. My nephew has used drugs since he was a teenager and he is now 46 years old. The answer to this question depends on who you ask and when you ask the question. When he was a teenager and a young adult, my mother made a lot of excuses for him and explained how his unfortunate life circumstances caused the problem, She gave him money (but not to buy drugs), yelled at him, preached to him, prayed for him and helped him get into various rehab programs and didn’t hold him accountable when he stole from her.

My father was angry and hurt and tried to give him love and advice, but he pretty much let my mother handle what was done and said. My sister, his mother, also had a drug problem and had no influence on changing his behavior. She was too busy trying to hide her own addiction problems and worried about him stealing from her. My sister and my nephew both were enabled by my mother. She knew they both had a drug problem, but ultimately, she either gave them money or reluctantly accepted the fact that they were stealing from her.

Most of my family were brutally outspoken about his drug problem and wanted him out of their lives. They didn’t want him at their houses and were very suspicious about what he was doing whenever he was at a family event. I invited him to my family holiday party every year, but he didn’t come very often, When he did come, he didn’t fit in with the rest of the family and was basically just at the party. No one was mean to him, but no one really said much more than “Merry Christmas” or “do you want something to eat or drink.” He also got some presents. Mostly clothes because he didn’t have a job and could always use some clothes. No one gave him any money because we all knew that he would use the money to buy drugs.

As he got older, he spent time in prison and disappeared to Camden. He never did anything that was really bad, but he always had unpaid fines and the police were very familiar with him. Throughout all of the years that he was using drugs, he always had his grandmother to help him. When his bipolar episodes ,became too much of a problem, or he stole from her and his grandfather, they would tell him to leave and he would go to his mother’s house. He would do the same things at her house and she would call the police to have him removed. Sometimes he would be put in jail because of open warrants, but they didn’t seem to keep him very long and then he would disappear to Camden.

This ongoing cycle ended when my mother, his grandmother, died. There was no longer the protective net that paid the bills for my sister’s apartment and the money for food and other essentials. As my sister’s life spiraled out of control financially and her own health problems overwhelmed her, she lost her apartment and went to a medical rehabilitation center where she died. Now, there was no safety net and my nephew became one of the many homeless drug addicts on the streets of Camden.

Next time: Has he hit bottom and is he ready to get help?

Register Ready Explained

I didn’t explain what Register Ready was in my last post so I need to take care of that. The Registry (a special needs registry) is used by first responders (Police, Fire, Sheriff Officers, Emergency Medical Services, Health Department Personnel, and if necessary, the Army National Guard) to assist in relocating our residents prior to an emergency situation. The Special Needs Registry is free, strictly confidential, and completely voluntary.

You are eligible if you have no place to go during an emergency and have a disability covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act or require additional assistance due to the following conditions:

  1. History of stroke
  2. Hearing, vision, or speech impaired
  3. Frail elderly
  4. Walking limitation
  5. Severe breathing problem
  6. Wheelchair, cane, or walker user
  7. Heart problem
  8. Mentally challenged

For more information or to get signed up in Salem County, call (856) 935-7510 Ext. 8304

Also, I wanted to remind everyone of the legal talks going on in September.

Register Ready & Plans for September

If you haven’t haven’t signed up for Register Ready, this is a great time to do so. It is also a great time to plan for your September activities. Although it can be difficult to plan things in these trying times, we need to still make plans and move on with our lives.

I delayed going out for a wonderful 46th anniversary celebration with my wife because of Covid concerns for two months. We went to DiPaolo’s patio in Penns Grove on Tuesday evening for a wonderful dinner. Great food, wonderful setting, great social distancing by DiPaolo’s staff and a time that Laurel and I were able to enjoy a wonderful evening. I followed this up with a golf outing with my friend from high school, Jim Ward, yesterday and we were able to wear our masks and have a great day on the course. We were even able to enjoy lunch at Blue Heron Pine’s outdoor deck.

Each of us needs to determine how comfortable we are with resuming our previous activities, but I would encourage everyone to at least think about the activities that we can be comfortable with. Enjoy and be careful.

Virtual Programs for July

I attached the Senior Scoop from the Salem County Office on Aging and Disabilities. Although there are a lot of virtual program options and drive through options, the senior scoot trips are still available with masks and social distancing. The Grab and go lunches are also listed for August. Things are different, the Office is still available to assist you. Call the office, go on their Facebook page or email them.

Make sure that you call the Salem County Office on Aging and Disabilities at 1 856 339 8622 to register.

ADA Turns 30

On Monday, July 26, 2020 the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 turns 30. This is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on a disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex and national origin illegal. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities as well as requirements for accessibility.

Having a law creates the framework to ensure that we have rights, but enforcement and actual practices are another thing. When I was on the board of Access Wilmington (the mayor of Wilmington Delaware’s committee on accessibility) 1988 – 2000, I was very excited when the ADA was passed. Then the reality became apparent: it was not funded. Our committee thought that it was going to be great that curb cuts would be installed and buildings would become accessible. Without the funding this didn’t happen quickly or without a great deal of resistance.

The city had not budgeted money for curb cuts, but the members of the committee went to the large employers in the city of Wilmington and influenced them to put in the curb cuts near their businesses and help fund other locations. Accessibility to buildings was another issue because it only covered new construction and renovations. Even new buildings with professional architects had difficulty getting it right. Our committee toured a high profile building before it opened to the public and it was outstanding. However, one of our members in a power wheelchair went to look at the “handicapped” stall and couldn’t get in and close the door. It was great if you had a manually operated chair, but not large enough for the larger power chairs.

I don’t think all discrimination or decisions that seem discriminatory are the result of willful actions. People know what they know and don’t know what they don’t know. The architect didn’t know about the size differences between the types of wheelchairs. The committee was also asked to review accessibility issue for First Night Wilmington. We found that the sites that were listed as accessible weren’t all accessible. When we talked to the owners and managers of these sites, they would tell us that they thought it was OK because it was only one or two steps. One of our members insisted we bring an extra manual chair on these inspections to allow the person in charge to try and navigate those steps. That is only one example of someone not aware of what it means to be physically disabled.

There are many different disabilities that affect people differently and it really is impossible for people to add value without direct knowledge of that disability. My suggestion is that we take the time to interact with individuals and try to see things from their perspective. I know we can’t fix everything that we encounter, but if we look, ask questions listen and remain open to the information we discover. maybe we can add value to someone else’s life. Happy 30th to the ADA.

Re-entry continues, but it isn’t normal.

The Salem County Office for the Disabled Advisory Board meets next Tuesday with a conference call. Ray Leight and I have been talking about how to create a virtual Disability Awareness Day if we can’t all meet in person. I discussed this with the Executive Director of Resources for independent Living and Lisa believes that they can create a video or U Tube presentation for the event. The idea will be on our OFD Advisory Board agenda, but who will be interested enough to try and make it work? The really positive thing about doing a virtual program is that it can be posted and people can see it more than once and can go to specific vendors and services to get the information they need.

We need to get a keynote speaker and decide if we can have the awards ceremony. It would be disappointing if we can’t select and celebrate a person and or an organization that are doing things that improve the lives of people with a disability. I am not sure how well this idea can be presented on a conference call. In person, you can make eye contact and read the body language of the rest of the group.

Even if we can make the case for a virtual program, it is going to be difficult to get things completed because people and organizations are still not functioning as they normally would. Organizations, products and services are just feeling their way as far as how open and available they are. On a personal note, my air conditioner (condenser) died after 28 years of service. The service tech came out and we determined it was time for a new unit. We had a plan, I paid 50% of the cost for the new equipment, but the distribution chain was empty, The equipment is not available due to production and transportation issues related to Covid. The company I am using is trying and they are keeping me informed, but they can’t install what they don’t have.

I will follow up with my fellow board members and see if we can make this happen. Wish us luck.

Re-entry: Looking For My Normal

Well I went to my first in-person meeting last night at the local Moose Lodge. It wasn’t a Moose get together although I used to belong to the Moose and I enjoyed their Wednesday night pizza and inexpensive drinks. This was a Resources for Independent Living Board meeting and it was at the Moose Lodge because it allowed us to more easily social distance. I had my mask and wore it some, but there was a lot of space between us and I felt fairly comfortable.

There is so much that is not allowed to happen with the programs and clients and the state of New Jersey is not convinced that special needs individuals can attend programs at this time or in the near future. It seems to me that special needs citizens are almost always at the end of the line for things that the rest of us just assume we will have, This is another case of privilege that most of us don’t even consider. A friend who serves on the Special Services School Board indicated that when schools start in September, the special needs students will not be starting at that time. She indicated that they might not start until after the first of the new year. I do not like this decision at all.

Most of the students that have been involved in distance learning, and then off for the summer, will return to school with a much larger learning gap than ever before. Imagine what type of gap there will be for students that need accommodations, modifications and support in their daily assignments and tests on an on-going basis. Often, those students have not done well on computer based assignments during a normal school year and many families do not have computers and internet access. Now, the state is thinking about a further delay in their education.

Before Covid19 shut everything down, I was working with Resources for Independent Living clients as a volunteer to mentor and help facilitate their orientation to a competitive job. After this structured experience, which a grant paid their salary, the next step would be to help them get their first real job. This just abruptly ended and we are not sure when we will be allowed to resume. As a advisory board member for the Office for the Disabled in Salem County, we started to plan for Disability Awareness Day scheduled for October. Once again, uncertainty about what will happen.

Ray Leight and I have been talking about a virtual Disability Awareness Day. What would that look like and how can we make that happen. We talked about filming presentations by the vendors and agencies that attend; filming the keynote speaker and trying to plan a program that will add value; and finding a way to continue our awards ceremony to high light individuals and agencies that add value to our special needs citizens. Finally, I have something that I can start working on. If anyone has any ideas, please contact me at fhentz@hotmail.com.

Trying To Get Back To Normal

I have had a difficult time trying to get back to my normal life. Some of it is because so many things have been closed and are still closed, but also I am having a difficult time getting out of my new normal. Since I haven’t been able to keep up with my volunteer activities, I don’t have a schedule or a place to be. I get up when I want, spend a long time easing into my day and then I pick activities that I can do around my house.

I am trying to learn Spanish on Dulingo; I have been redoing all of my flower beds; trying to go through my boxes of pictures to get them organized; working on Ancestry; going through the house time and a gain looking for things that I can get rid of so my sons won’t have to do it after I am gone; cleaning my garage, shop and shed; and have definitely found a lot of time to smell the roses and watch what is happening from different seats all around my house and yard. I find that I get distracted a lot and go from activity to activity. Nothing needs to be done by a specific date so I might start one thing and end up doing two or three things during the day.

I have tried to participate in board meetings with Resources for Independent Living, The Salem County Office for the Disabled Advisory Board and my high school reunion committee. Technology hasn’t worked very well for everyone, people have forgotten to sign on at the right time and when the technology and participation is working, we run into road blocks because the vendors or companies we need to interact with aren’t always available.

My wife and I go to the store one day a week and talk on the phone and text friends and family. We have even done some driveway visits and are planning to attend a social distance get together with friends that have also been staying home. The good news is that the agencies that provide help for our most vulnerable citizens are available and have been reaching out and checking on them. I find myself moving back out into the world and notice that others are doing the same. Hang in there and reach out for help, if you need it. We are going to get through this.