Saturday, July 08, 2006

Walter: The Latest

In his own way I really do believe Walter tried.

But, it just didn't work out. Or, at least, it hasn't worked out yet. Chances are it never will work out for Walter here.

I've noticed this across the years in the city.

People try and fail.

They try again and fail.

For some, success comes only after moving on or changing the scenery of their lives.

This may be the case with Walter. I hope so.

If you've been dropping in here over the past year or so, you've read about my friend Walter on a couple of occasions. A brutal combination of drugs, a highly dysfunctional relationship with a woman (who was also an addict), terrible family history and a highly developed gift of denial drove my friend into the ground.

The sad thing about Walter is the fact that he tried, at least in his own mind and in this own way, he tried.

Over the past two months I've had several conversations with him. A number were after his landlord (our property manager of one of the buildings we own in inner city Dallas) informed him that he would need to find another place to live.

Walter and his "wife" had been granted free rent for two months while they got themselves "on their feet"--or, at least, that was the plan.

After the grace period was used up, the expectation was that they would pay rent like everyone else in the complex. They never did.

My last installment here on Walter reported that he had separated himself from the woman and the relationship that was killing them both.

Unfortunately, by the time he took this action, he had managed to alienate and threaten most of the people who lived around him in the apartment complex. Other residents threatened to leave due to his troublesome behavior.

His efforts at work and earning a living were spotty at best. He did manage--better, he claims to have managed--to save up about $500 since the landlord refused to accept payment for back rent and now intends to evict him.

When I talked to him last week, I encouraged him to use the money he had to lease another place. He said that was his plan. We will see, I suppose.

Walter could have made it had he been more honest, worked harder and not allowed himself to be bound up with his woman partner. But then, had he been able to pull that off his life would have been completely different from the start and it would most likely have had a different outcome.

Walter illustrates the difficulty of what we are attempting here. He also shines a bright light on how inept we are so often.

His life also points up the fact that we need more systemic, community resources to bring to our efforts. Walter needed, and likely still needs, treatment for his drug habit. He needed work skills training. He needed a sound plan for housing. In short, he needed more help than we had available to offer him. Much of what he really needs is simply no longer available in Texas.

As people of faith and action, we need to change this present reality.

That said, Walter is not done. I hope he finds his way. I hope I have a chance to continue to talk to him. Time will tell.

This is really hard.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like Walter needed to be "at the table" (from your previous post), surrounded by a diverse group of people committed to supporting each other in common struggles. You certainly seemed to have done your part to reach out to him, but it looks like he somehow fell through the cracks for other people.

Unfortunately, there are so many more Walters than there are Larrys.

But, on to my question.

When you say he needed more systemic, community resources, what do you mean? I see you mentioned substance abuse and other programs. What would that look like?

Sounds almost like he needs a parent. Or a couple of best friends. What does that mean from a systemic point of view? Case management?

Larry James said...

Thanks for the post, Anonymous.

Yes, he needed/needs in-treatment care, follow up outpatient aftercare, and case management. He needs a plan and a job that will pay him something that allows him to see "light at the end of the tunnel" as he rebuilds.

He does need some good friends. He could have found those at the Central Dallas Church, but he didn't stay with it consistently and I expect the church didn't follow as aggressively as it should have. Although, when a church has lots of sitations like this one, it can become overwhelming.

Many people object when I say it, but this is why we must restore community-wide, accessible resources for treatment and recovery. Currently, about the only large scale public response to persons like Walter is prison.

Anonymous said...

Could a group like Central Dallas Ministries create something like that (assuming funding comes through)?

That is, of course, a big assumption.

I guess I mean this: what would such a "community-wide, accessible resources for treatment and recovery" system look like? Could the public create a government-run program that would fit that bill (besides prison)? Or would it be up to charities and churches to operate it, possibly through securing federal grants?

I guess I'm asking: what is the most cost-effective, sustainable and replicable means of offering that resource to people like Walter?

Larry James said...

Anonymous, I believe it is unrealistic--based on my observation and experience--to expect the church or private-only groups to develop and take such systems to scale.

I do believe that faith communities, organizations like CDM and other private partners can play a big role in supporting, utilizing and assisting such public ventures.

But there must be a foundation of basic services and resources available that arise from a collective, coordinated, public response in order to get us where we need to be.

It needs to be a partnership. What we have now is an uncoordinated effort with far too few public funds and institutions available for anyone. Those with power to bring about change are seemingly unaware, likely in part because of the fact that if they need such services, they possess the financial means to purchase them. The poor remain unorganizaed and largely voiceless.

Even if groups like CDM could provide what is needed, the funds just aren't there.

MommyHAM said...


Sorry about Walter, but you're right, people try and fail, and hopefully, they will get back up and try again. It's so hard with substance abuse - an average of 7 attempts at sobriety before lasting success is what was touted in my social work circles a few years back.

As to your stance about resources - AMEN!!! Churches aren't going to be the answer - particularly in an economy where a lot of church members themselves are dealing with layoffs and unemployment issues - the treasuries of the churches are just as low as those of non-profits. One thing that really tugs at me is when anti-services people plead for this, and for non-profits to take care of it all. What they don't realize is that non-profits are doing their works with the help of gov't too - CDBG, HUD SuperNOFA funding, etc. There aren't many entities out there doing social services without any tie to gov't dollars.

Keep up the good work Larry. For all the Walters, there are many who do finally get it, and get out of their cycles.

Larry James said...

Mommyham, you are correct about all that you write. Thanks for the post.

What people don't understand is both the scale and the cost of response to the ongoing dilemmas and needs of people. It is overwhelming. Thanks for the encouragement!

John Greenan said...

Since I'm the person that had to make the call to evict Walter, and since I also encouraged Larry to blog once more about this situation, I feel I should add a little more detail here.

Sometimes you have to do what you feel is right--or the best you can do--even though you know the chances of success aren't very good. I think this was a case where someone wasn't ready yet to succeed, we didn't have the resources to provide Walter that he would have needed to succeed, and we probably didn't have the right kind of living situation to give him the best chance of succeeding.

In short, I pretty well knew this was going to be a failure. It was, and it proved to be a fairly costly one. We lost one good tenant who moved out because of problems with Walter. We spent some money on an eviction, and a lot of staff time.

But we didn't have any better place to put him, he didn't have any better place to go, and he still doesn't.

I think we need to err (within reason) on the side of giving people a chance, even if we're dubious about the chances of it working. Sometimes, also, we can't give people what they need, so we simply have to give them what we've got.

Even if the odds are against it, some people still succeed. That's the bet we make, and, occasionally, win.

Larry James said...

Thanks, John. Good to be in this with you!