My interest in developing The Maine Way started through my work with the City Of Biddeford. I have been employed as the Director of Health and Welfare in excess of twenty-five years. During this time I have interacted with people who have a variety of issues including homelessness, mental health problems, and unemployment.
There are two young men whose lives have affected me deeply. The first, whom I will call John, was disabled due to uncontrollable epileptic seizures that began as a result of childhood lead poisoning. John was in his mid-twenties. He had no income; he had applied for disability and was waiting for a decision. John had no family to help and struggled to remember to keep his appointments and take his anti-seizure medication. He was eligible for General Assistance and I paid his rent weekly. There were times when he didn’t present for his appointment so I would call his landlord to check on him. He eventually found an apartment in another community. It was a year or so later when an area doctor who knew I had worked with John inquired about the General Assistance Program and whether we could provide medication. He was quite distressed because for some reason John had been unable to consistently access his medication resulting in a seizure that caused his death.
I met ‘Scott’ when he came to my office seeking housing. He was also in his mid-twenties and had just been released from a mental health facility with no place to go. He was handsome, intelligent, personable, and excited. While hospitalized, he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was so relieved to finally know what was wrong with him and that there was medication that could help. He said that voices had been interrupting his thoughts for years and he didn’t understand them nor did he want anyone to know that he was ‘crazy’. He said the medication he was on had stopped the voices and he was finally feeling in control of his life. Having no income, he was eligible for assistance and located a room at a nearby hotel. He never came back for further assistance so I presumed that he had found a job and supporting himself. I was wrong. Apparently he was unable to manage his illness on his own. He somehow ended up living in the woods where he was found deceased.
Both of these young men continue to haunt me. If our 73 South St. residence had been in place their outcomes may have been different. They both needed to be in a safe place where there were people who could help them manage. I wish we had the money and manpower to for a dozen more homes as I know there are many more like John and Scott who need help maneuvering through this difficult thing we call life.