One Year Later: Housing Gone Wrong – The Life (and Death) of John Chadwick

It has been just over a year since I penned “Housing Gone Wrong – The Life (and Death) of John Chadwick“. You may recall that I was contacted by Dee Bonnett in Maidstone, England whom altered me to this tragedy: John Chadwick, formerly homeless for 10 years, was evicted from his housing due to a change in ownership. John was offered accommodation at a bed and breakfast (B&B) however he would have to give up his dogs Theo and Tinkerbell, and a cat, Gizmo. He ended his own life rather than give up his pets.

I have found that the homeless (or formerly homeless) take care of the their pets better than non-homeless. The rationale is simple: their pets will unconditionally love them no matter how dire their circumstances are. Most will offer food and comfort to their pets even if it means they themselves go hungry. Fortunately many communities are served by charitable organizations such as the Community Pet Project here in Florida and Dogs on the Street in London, England that offer vital services to homeless pets and their keepers.

What has changed in the last year? In Maidstone, England, the tireless work of Dee Bonnett has resulted in a new pet policy that allows those moving into council accommodations to keep their pets. In Manchester, the groundbreaking research of Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellow Amy Varle was published, attracting the attention of Number 10.

Here in Florida, we do not have any low-barrier shelters that accept pets, however charitable organizations such as the Community Pet Project can sometimes offer pet fostering or boarding at local pet resorts. In my work in police homeless outreach, our community offers permanent, supportive housing that allows pets (I will never permanently separate the homeless from their pets).

Where do we go from here? The process to end homelessness (including those with pets) requires political support. Ending homelessness is not glamorous nor sexy, and does not bring in the votes. The only elected official that I am aware of that campaigned on a platform of addressing homelessness is Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham. There is no mystery to this; we know how to end homelessness (with housing) however achieving this requires political buy-in and a real commitment towards positive change (where is your community?)

On a related note, I am excited to have crossed paths over the past year with many brilliant and talented folks that are committed to ending homelessness. Stay tuned to my Twitter feed @HomelessPolice next week when Dee Bonnett, Amy Varle, myself and several others will meet in London. For most of us, this will be the first time we have met each other in person and I am beyond excited and honored to be meeting them.

The Top 10 Reasons to Start a Police Homeless Outreach Team (and How)

The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida will be hosting the International Association of Chief of Police (#IACP2018) conference from October 6-9, 2018. This is the largest police conference in the world, attracting 15,000 police executives from over 150 nations.

I am happy to announce that I will be offering my latest workshop The Top 10 Reasons to Start a Police Homeless Outreach Team (and How) on Saturday, October 6, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM (click here for details).

I developed this idea after several conversations with Antoinette Hayes-Triplett, CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative (THHI). She remarked that after a meeting at the Urban Land Institute in Los Angeles, CA, many police agencies were interested in developing a police homeless outreach team (HOT) but just didn’t know how to get started. They also realized that attempting to arrest away homelessness is not an effective solution.

I have spent about 15,000 hours working in police homeless outreach, figuring what does work – as well as what what doesn’t work. I’ll also offer some ideas for how to not get sued since having an ineffective or non-existent homeless policy is a quick trip towards expensive and time-consuming litigation.

If you cannot attend #IACP2018, I’ll also be presenting this workshop at The 2018 Florida Institute on Homelessness and Supportive Housing on Friday, November 2nd (click for details).

As always, if you have any questions about police homeless outreach or homelessness in general, feel free to contact me. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @HomelessPolice.

Random Acts of BBQ

Thank you to Sonny’s BBQ, Bags of Brotherly Love and Brandon Elks for honoring all of us today that work in Tampa and Hillsborough County (Florida) to end homelessness. When I started in police homeless outreach in 2012, I never thought in a million years that my program would have gathered so much support. It takes a community to solve complex social problems such as homelessness and I honored for the opportunity and support to do my part.

Housing Gone Wrong – The Life (and Death) of John Chadwick

Note: This blog is based upon real events. In this case, John Chadwick ended his life after being separated from his pets. The system failed John. Please read my post. If you agree (or even if you don’t), please consider signing Dee Bonett’s (John’s best friend) petition to prevent future tragedies:

Please click here to sign this petition: Introduce pets as support systems for the more vulnerable members of society

On October 27, 2017, the Manchester Evening News reported that John Chadwick, 52, from Salford, died after being separated from his pets.

John was homeless, and had been staying in a bed & breakfast. He had been offered accommodation in a council flat (apartment) which would have ended his homelessness.

As a condition of moving into the flat, John would have to give up his pets. However, after battling mental illness, alcoholism and homelessness, John had reach the tipping point between life and death, and could no longer endure the pain. And death appeared to be the best option.

On March 16th, the anniversary of his mother’s death, John sent a final text message to his friends. He was later found dead from an overdose of prescription drugs and alcohol.

So what caused John’s death? Was it separation from his pets, or were there other factors?

There are several issues that contributed towards John’s death:

  • Rough sleeping (homelessness)
  • Mental illness
  • Alcoholism
  • Separation from his pets
  • The anniversary of his mother’s death

Those working to end homelessness practice (or should practice) a trauma-informed approach to working with their clients. This means their clients should not have to re-live traumatic events in their life, nor should they have to endure future trauma. Any one of John’s events are traumatic. Now when you add them together, did John ever stand a chance? How would you or I fare in a similar situation?

As John was preparing to end homelessness, he was haunted by “the ghosts of trauma past”, in his case, mental illness, alcoholism and the loss of his mother. In addition, he now had to stare directly into “the ghosts of trauma future” with the imminent separation from his pets. Ultimately, John’s coping mechanism was his own death (not because he wanted to die; but because it was the only way to stop his pain and suffering).

John’s tragedy raises the question that I am frequently asked: should the homeless be allowed to own pets? My answer is a resounding yes!

I have found that the homeless take care of their pets exceptionally well, usually better than non-homeless. This reason is simple: their pet will unconditionally love them, even when they feel no one else does. Further proof of their bond is when homeless pet owners feed their pets first, even if they themselves go hungry.

The unbreakable bond between pets and their homeless owners is a reason why I assist whenever possible. One of my clients had a three-legged service dog to alert her of an imminent strokes or seizure. I also arranged a wedding, then permanent housing for a homeless couple and their dog, Princess. In Boston, Dan Rea, host of Nightside with Dan Rea, used the reach of WBZ Newsradio 1030 (heard in 38 states and Canada) to help me save the life of Norman the Cat. Even my own pet, Top Cat, was rescued from the streets of Tampa at 8-weeks of age. So I take the welfare of animals (and their human keepers) very seriously.

What is the answer? Can similar tragedies be prevented? I think so. John would have been an excellent candidate for Housing First. This approach provides permanent supportive housing with wrap-around services, such as counselling for mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as life-skills assistance).

The system failed John. He lived, homeless, at the intersection of alcoholism, depression and anxiety.  Perhaps with earlier interventions, he could have been saved. The system must be user-friendly. And until this occurs, those most in need will continue to suffer while they navigate a maze of service providers, each with different missions. There needs to be unity and coordination, with providers working towards a common goal of ending homelessness (with housing being the only known cure). And finally, accommodations for the homeless should embrace those with pets. Why not offer landlords slightly increased rents or security deposits an an incentive to accommodate pets?

In closing, we need to break the “Homeless Circle of Life”, and help those most vulnerable to escape from the clutches of homelessness, mental illness, addictions and jail. Once meaningful solutions are available, and easier to navigate, then tragedies such as the suicide of John Chadwick can be prevented.

Please click here to sign this petition: Introduce pets as support systems for the more vulnerable members of society

Old McDonald’s Homeless Farm

I’ve been privy to some crazy ideas over the years about solving homelessness. The one that always get a chuckle was when I was asked if I owned a farm. And if I did, was I enslaving the homeless and forcing them to work against their will. And if it is true, did I have any room?

Here is the text of the actual e-mail that I received:

To: Daniel McDonald
Subject: farm?

Hi Dan,

I hope this finds you well. I have the strangest question to ask you. One of my homeless friends was telling me that you personally own a farm and you sometimes take homeless people there and expect them to work there, even if they don’t want to. This sounded really farfetched (sic) to me, but I decided I’d just go directly to the source and ask you about it.

Perhaps like so many things there are parts of this story that are true and elements that have been omitted that don’t present the whole story. SO, do you have a farm? Do you employ homeless people? Do you provide housing and or wages? If so, are people free to come and go as they choose?

Please forgive me if this is uncomfortable. I wanted to get the facts and be able to “defend you” from such accusations if they are unfounded. I also wanted to know if you do have some kind of farm or training program where I could send people to work for room and board.

I was never quite sure if the sender was serious, or if Allen Funt of Candid Camera fame was laying in wait behind a bush. I suspect the author’s willingness to “defend” me meant that this rumor really was circulating around town.

For as long as I have worked in law enforcement, many crooks-turned-comedians would constantly ask if I owned a farm, an obvious references to the nursery rhyme “Old McDonald Had a Farm” (yes, I had to explain this to more than one person).

I thought it would be interesting, from a homeless systems point if view, so see if this idea has any merit (hopefully you already know the answer).

  • Slavery and human trafficking is illegal and immoral;
  • Sending your homelessness to other areas, such as agricultural areas, only displaces the problems, and creates tension between communities (this refers to “greyhound therapy. Reuniting the homeless with their support system has merit);
  • Permanent housing solves homelessness. Come-as-you-are shelters, agricultural training programs, work therapy, jail diversion programs only waste resources and kick the can down the road;
  • Housing makes other issues such as employment, addictions, mental and chronic health issues much more manageable. If your shelter is based on programming with lots of rules and red tape, then you are doomed to failure. This is the basis of Housing First.

New ideas are welcome as long as they are legal, ethical and follow best practices. However, if your plan is based upon not so good practices or even nursery rhymes, it’s time a new plan.