By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Williams had been in MHMRA's system since her early twenties, but she rarely went to treatment or took her medication, if she had any. Since losing her children, Williams had become increasingly delusional, believing that neighbors were performing voodoo on her or that a family member was trying to kill her.
"It was the people in the TV that were talking to me," Williams says. "I don't even know what they would say, but I just knew that someone was out there [to hurt me]."
Other times, when she had a psychotic episode, Williams would become "sexually hyperactive," opening her front door and lying in her living room naked, or she would walk naked down the street.
Shortly after the program started, Williams was discharged from a two-week stay in HCPC, and she said she was ready for psychiatric treatment. She's been to the hospital just once since the chronic consumer program started, and since she's become stable, Alas helped get her social security benefits for the first time in almost a decade. He also helped her open her first bank account that she can remember.
"I go and check up on her some nights," Alas says. "Because I know she'll start feeling good and stop taking her medication. One time I knew she wasn't taking her medication, so I went over there and said, 'If you don't take it now, I'm going to come back.' I went back at 8 o'clock that night and I brought my dog, because I knew I might sleep there if she didn't take it. It took about 30 minutes, but she took it."
"Me going over there and making her take her medication, that saved the city thousands of dollars," Alas says. "Because they didn't have to go and intervene, take her to [the NeuroPsychiatric Center] and wait to do whatever paperwork they'd have. It took me 30 minutes, boom, bam, end of the day."
In other cases, he hasn't been so successful. The one client on the list of 30 who died during the program was supposed to be helped by Alas. She was a 42-year-old refugee from Cuba who got assistance for room and board from the Harris County Guardianship program, a last resort of court-appointed guardians.
Alas first found the woman behind a gas station on the city's east side, in a wooded lot where there was a couch. "[The client] had not been attending day programs and was leaving the home at all hours of the day and night, for days at a time, and roaming the streets panhandling or hanging out in abandoned lots with transients under the influence of crack," Alas wrote in a case assessment. "Though [the patient] was med compliant, she was manipulative and drug seeking. [She] would bolt from her home for days at a time when she would partake in all types of criminal behavior, including prostitution and drugs."
The woman, because of the way she spent her time, would often find herself in confrontations with police. When that happened, she would simply "verbalize her mental illness and her willingness to hurt [herself]. She was well known at [the NeuroPsychiatric Center]..."
Alas got her into a drug rehabilitation program that treated people with chemical dependencies and mental illness, known as dual diagnosis, and the owner of the group home where she lived helped out by promising to keep her on lockdown. Days before the woman was scheduled to check into rehab, Alas says, the woman developed a rash on her stomach and when the intake worker at the rehab center asked her about it, the client said she burned herself, causing a self-inflicted wound. She couldn't get in.
Days later, she disappeared from her group home, and after a couple weeks passed, Alas received a call that the client had gotten a spot at another rehab. The next day, however, he found out the woman had been found dead.
"That was tough, because she had a chance," Alas says. "But she was going to do what she wanted to do."
Like many people on the list of 30, one man is scary. He has hepatitis C and is HIV-positive. And, Lee says, "He has this issue where he'll be walking through downtown, and he'll just coldcock you. You could just be standing at a bus stop, minding your own business, and he'll punch you. That's his conduct."
One morning this summer, that man was walking through downtown and decided to deck another man who happened to be the brother of state Representative Garnet Coleman. Police were called and the man was arrested. Trouble was, the next day, Coleman's brother was walking to work downtown and saw the same man who had punched him the day before. The brother called Coleman, who in turn called the police department.
"I told the rep's office it's a problem and we need some help. We've put [that client] in the hospital so many times, and he's out in a day or two. We'll put him in jail, and that's usually the quickest. He's out in 24 hours," Lee says. "It's not that I'm happy that happened, but they experienced a little taste of what we've been telling them."