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Homeless woman struggles for help

JEFF MCCOY

Staff writer
[email protected]
Editor’s note: The names of the woman with disabilities and her sister have been changed to protect their identities.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — “Carrie” slips in and out of sleep on the motel bed where she has been reading the Bible. Her sister “Linda” sits patiently on a chair at her wits’ end.

Carrie has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Carrie sees aliens and has been tormented by “strangers” that enter her world.

“She was in a rehab center in Hagerstown, and for some unknown reason they brought her back to Martinsburg and left her at the Bethany House. She was in the hospital. She used up whatever (time) she was allowed so they sent her up to Hagerstown to a rehab place up there. I get a call from Bethany House that Hagerstown put her in a vehicle and brought her (there) and left her. She was there for a considerable amount of time, and then a couple of issues happened and she had to leave there,” Linda said. “By the time they finally got her out of the building, they took her up to the hospital and left her (there). And the hospital said, ‘She’s got to go, she can’t stay here any longer.’ She was on the third floor — the gateway for mental health part. And then when DHHR was appointed as her guardian back in the summer and they found a place for her going out towards Morgantown, she refused to go up there. My health is deteriorating because of having to take her something to eat every day. There just doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.”

Once — while living in Baltimore — Carrie lived in a house with other people. It didn’t work out.

“(On a) Tuesday morning, the bank calls me and says there is somebody in the Baltimore bank branch trying to get access to her money,” Linda said.

“Thursday morning, she calls and says ‘The law was here at the house last night looking for somebody who disappeared from here three days ago.’ She said, ‘You got to come and get me out of here.’ So we bought her back.”

Linda said the money it costs for Carrie’s medications also makes her situation difficult.

“Before she wound up here she was at Bethany House and they said, ‘Don’t spend her money, she will need it later.’ So she had accumulated a little bit of extra in there, but what it is costing here is much more than her check,”Linda said. “The problem is to get her into a house — a home — where her medicines are monitored, and as you can see from some of these notes they want $3,000, $2,000 minimum and she doesn’t get that kind of money.”

Linda said some of Carrie’s mental health issues can sometimes make things difficult. She can’t remember to take her medicine on time, or at all sometimes. Carrie doesn’t know why people are upset with her. Her parents have passed away, and Linda was already an adult by the time Carrie was born.

“I was married and gone from home when she was born,” Linda said. “In fact, I have a son that is a little bit older than she is,” Linda said.

Another sister took Carrie in for a while and helped her get Social Security Disability.

“That sister and her were having some issues and she was going to leave there and move in with somebody else. They took her belongings to the other house. When she went over there the next day, nobody was there. The house was locked up and nobody was there, so she wound up in the emergency room in the hospital,” Linda said.

Later, Linda got a call and was told Carrie was in trouble in Maryland.

“I went to (Maryland). They said she was trying to break into cars down on main street or something. Her story was that she thought that car belonged to someone else and she needed some place to sit down. The police station didn’t have any reports, so they said, ‘Go check the emergency room.’ I went to the emergency room, and she was there,” Linda said. “They were not going to let me have her that night, but relinquished on the promise that I would talk to her doctor the next morning. I brought her to Martinsburg with me that night, and that was a nightmare ride up the road. (She) was trying to open the door and jump out and (said she was) being invaded with aliens and all kinds of stuff.”

As promised, Linda spoke with Carrie’s doctor.

“(I) talked to her doctor and he said, ‘No, you cannot deal with her. You must get her hospitalized immediately.’ I took her to City (hospital). The next thing I know, somebody had pulled the fire alarm and they loaded her up and were on their way to Weston (state hospital). She was there for a month, and when she came home she was found on Water Street in a home down there with 24 hours supervision,” Linda said. “They decided she didn’t need 24 hour supervision. They put her in an apartment with a roommate. She was in the apartment and issues popped up. Food was disappearing and she was being blamed for it. She found a little back alley room down here off of Race Street and moved herself into there.”

Linda said she helped where she could. She brought food to Carrie and did her laundry.

“At some point, somebody got in contact with legal aid and they helped get her into Ambrose Towers, and she was over there seven or eight years. She is diagnosed schizophrenic and bipolar. In Ambrose Towers, she was making numerous 911 calls constantly. Eventually, she got eviction papers. Now we are here. She is on her fourth week here,” Linda said.

Now, Linda still makes sure Carrie has what she needs as best she can.

“I’ve been buying groceries. She keeps milk and cereal here, so she is good for breakfast. I signed her up for meals on wheels the second week she was here. I was hoping DHHR would have her out of here. I call over there the second week she is here. I get a recording that says the case worker is out of the office between the 19 and the 29. If there is any issues call the supervisor. I tried to call the supervisor, the switch board says I don’t think she is in her office, we’ll give you somebody else and I get (sent) back to the original case worker,” Linda said. “Every time I tried to call in after that, if I could get past the guy telling you, ‘For this person or for this person, press these numbers in here then wait for the operator.’ You wait for the operator; it rings a couple of times, then the next thing you know you’re back through that scenario of numbers and issues again. So I gave up trying to get a hold of anybody down there until yesterday and this morning. I asked, ‘What exactly is DHHR responsible for?’ And she said, ‘Well basically to keep her safe, make sure she is in a safe place and to make medical decisions.’ Well Shenandoah had already put me in as her medical power of attorney over there. Shenandoah says she is not capable of being by herself and there no place to get help for what she needs.”

Now at a Martinsburg motel, Linda said Carrie’s safety could be at risk.

“At some point in the last two weeks, she said she has been raped here in the room, that men came in — in the night. When she first came (to the motel), this door stayed opened all the time. I argued with her because she wouldn’t take off her jacket,” Linda said. “I needed to take it to get it washed, but she needed it because it was cold in here. I told her she needs to keep the door shut. At some point she figured out how to use the phone and called 911. Supposedly it was said that if she called 911 again they were going to take her to jail.”

Linda said she’s at a loss for the current situation in which she finds herself and her sister.

“I can’t keep on doing this. I go home, sit down in a chair and I just don’t have the energy to get up. What do I do now? What can I do? DHHR is supposed to be her guardian. What do I do?”

Carrie has enough funds to cover the cost of the motel for a few more weeks. After that, she may be back out on the streets seeking shelter where ever she can find it.

Staff reporter Jeff McCoy can be reached at [email protected]

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