DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY, STOP ENABLING BAD BEHAVIOR!
By Max R. Weller
Read the article in the Daily Camera here, CU partners with Boulder Shelter for the Homeless on assessments. Copied below in its entirety:
Lasette Brown, regional benefits coordinator for the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, is pictured at the facility on Wednesday. Brown helps members of the homeless community apply for Social Security benefits, and refers some clients for free cognitive assessments at the University of Colorado Brain Behavior Clinic. (Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer)
Of the 1,800 homeless people who used the resource center at Boulder’s Bridge House in 2016, no fewer than 25 percent self-reported that they are affected by a previous traumatic brain injury, which could leave them with possible cognitive difficulties.
Those with cognitive problems might qualify for Social Security disability benefits — but because of those same challenges, they could likely face a lot of difficulty in navigating through the required paperwork.
A partnership between the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless and the University of Colorado’s Brain Behavior Clinic now provides the ability for members of the homeless community to obtain free cognitive assessments — a critical step in their bid to get the financial help they need.
Lasette Brown, regional benefits coordinator at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, is tasked with helping to process clients’ applications for disability benefits. It is she who refers appropriate candidates for the cognitive tests to Emily Richardson, director of the Brain Behavior Clinic at CU, and also an assistant research professor in CU’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.
“I encounter someone, and they’re having a hard time holding a job down, because of many reasons,” Brown said. “But if I think the reason they are not able to keep a job is because of something going on in their brain, then my job is to get them hooked up with someone who could diagnose that.”
Brown does not find that every client who might merit a cognitive evaluation is willing to actually go through with the process — even with the potential reward of disability payments at the end of the road.
“For some of the folks I encounter, they’ve lost a lot of dignity and they have lost a lot of self-respect,” Brown said. “I try to respect their decision, if they are not interested in exploring what’s going on in their mind. I try to be as respectful of that as I can be.
“I try to make them understand that I’m trying to help them and I’m trying to get them into a better situation. I think trust is also a big issue with folks I encounter. A lot of folks don’t trust the government. They don’t trust the shelter. They don’t trust any of these systems.”
The arrangement between the Boulder shelter and Richardson, a clinical neuropsychologist, dates back to 2012, when the Boulder shelter’s director of programs, Michael Block, inquired whether the clinic might be able to provide free assessments, for which psychologists typically charge between $1,000 and $2,000. Such specialized tests usually assess thinking abilities such as executive function and memory, IQ and the possible effects tied to medical issues resulting from brain injuries or seizures.
Richardson, in turn, applied for a CU Outreach Award, which connects faculty research, teaching and creative work with public needs and interests. The program has received a grant of about $8,000 a year from the outreach awards since 2012.
A spokeswoman at SOAR — a national organization working to end homelessness through increased access to Social Security income and Social Security disability benefits — said the partnership is likely unique to Colorado and very rare nationwide.
“The reason I did this was, the Department of Psychology was moving more toward neuroscience-based research, and our students were not getting the (clinical) training they needed,” Richardson said.
“I launched the brain behavior clinic for the purpose of training graduate students in the context of my work. I ended up evaluating someone who was a client of the homeless shelter, and Michael Block was that person’s case manager. And once that evaluation was done, the report was complete and he saw the value of that kind of evaluation.”
The 25 percent rate of self-reported past traumatic brain injury by clients at Bridge House last year was actually exceeded by the 47 percent who self-reported a history of mental health issues, according to Bridge House Executive Director Isabel McDevitt.
And, while cognitive problems and mental health issues are not one and the same, there can be a complex interplay between the two.
“There’s a clear-cut difference, but it can be that the person’s cognitive disability is caused by, or aggravated by, a mental health condition,” Richardson said.
“A good example is someone with schizophrenia. By virtue of the mental health issue alone, it impacts the rate at which they can think. Even if they are not in a psychotic episode, they may be processing information very slowly. They may have difficulties with executive function, which is the highest level of thinking.
“And that is a common pattern for people with schizophrenia. So the mental health problem in that case is causing the cognitive deficits.”
Despite the potentially high number of homeless people in the Boulder area who might qualify for the free cognitive testing at CU, the number who have done so is small — only about a half dozen having been referred through the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless since last fall. More than double that number, however, have been referred through other local agencies, or by word-of-mouth.
That is partly a function of the limited number of graduate students who are performing the assessments under Richardson’s direction, but also the difficulty of getting some clients to even keep appointments and follow through adequately. And typically, a completed assessment will require two, or even sometimes three appointments.
McDevitt, of Boulder’s Bridge House, said the alliance between the CU Brain Behavior Clinic and the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless provides “a great service” and a critical assist where one is very much needed.
“It’s hard enough for a housed person to maintain access to their medical records and assessments and so forth,” McDevitt said. “For a homeless person — particularly one with a lot of challenges — just having access to their medical history can be nearly impossible.
“Getting the kind of assessment that can help inform their cases, for benefits, is hugely important.”
Ahem! Where to begin? Well, since it’s the first of the month when both SSI and SSDI disability benefits are received by many homeless people — and almost NONE of them have a responsible payee who will closely monitor how their money is spent — you may notice that local venues (including Boulder Shelter) show a greatly reduced number of the homeless usually to be found there. Where are they, instead? I’m glad you asked . . .
Some of them (okay, a LOT of them) use their hundreds-of-dollars in monthly benefits to rent a motel room for a few nights, buy all the booze and dope they can consume in that time, then they’re broke and back on the streets in no longer than a week. At that point, they once again become totally dependent on Boulder’s social services system. A few never make it into a warm motel room:
Yes, indeed, the first part of every month is a BONANZA for cheap motels, liquor stores, marijuana retailers, and dope peddlers offering hard drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. And YOU, dear taxpayer, are footing the bill.
Now Boulder Shelter for the Homeless wants to add to the problem. No surprise there; it’s part of the modus operandi for keeping the poor souls who fall into the corrupt homeless industry’s grasp from ever escaping to lead truly independent lives.
I can forgive CU’s involvement only because their interest is academic, and it’s unlikely they recognize the abuse of disability benefits that occurs at an alarming rate among the homeless I see on a daily basis.
BTW, self-reporting is notoriously inaccurate among any group being questioned, and I daresay it’s utterly useless with homeless people. BSH’s Michael Block knows this as well as anybody!
(This post has been e-mailed to Boulder City Council.)