EDITOR’S NOTE: This letter was in response to Sentinel Colorado stories about Mayor Mike Coffman’s TV story about posing as a homeless veteran for a week in December. That story prompted a letter from Melissa Marscellus, an Aurora woman who talked about her daughter, whom she called “Mallory.” She defended Coffman’s message about drug users on the street and detailed her struggle to persuade her daughter to seek drug treatment and shelter. The letter prompted this response from Marcellus’ daughter, Mina Marcellus. The Sentinel confirmed the letter, speaking with Mina about her desire to explain her feelings about homelessness and her drug addiction.
Editor: The Mayor of Aurora, Mike Coffman – a.k.a. “Homeless Mike” – was homeless for one week. Anyone who has been on the streets for multiple years will quietly chuckle to hear their partner in conversation has so little experience under their belt.
I’ve bounced between jail and the sidewalks of Denver and Glenwood Springs since 2015. The mayor, spending a mere week before concluding the vast majority of us are drug addicts who don’t want help, is the equivalent of reading the inside cover of a novel and then proceeding to write an essay.
It’s not that we don’t want help — it’s that the help offered is often inadequate and strangled by the methods of treatment programs with relapse and recidivism rates that are laughable.
These programs have been proven over and over again not to work, and a lot of us have had them forced down our throats by the legal system. Bureaucrats will claim wildly that we don’t want help, however none of them ever ask us what would actually be helpful.
I write my next two sentences at the risk of being disregarded afterwards: I don’t want or need help with my drug use — I’ve found after practice and mistakes aplenty that I can moderate it and incorporate it into my life in a way that is healthy and harmless.
I don’t want or need help with my mental health — any time I’ve been forced or coerced into treatment has actually resulted in my stability deteriorating. I understand my mind better than any therapist who some institution can pay a fortune’s worth of funding for me to begrudgingly see for an hour every week.
Government officials seeking re-election, respect, power, or any other goal as part of their ambitious career path often spout proposed solutions to the homeless problem that we’ve all heard before. We’ve heard them before, and obviously, they aren’t working.
There aren’t words that could hope to express the gratitude I would feel toward any program or group of determined individuals who would be willing to look past the fact that I am an IV drug user and actually give me a chance. The first month in an apartment paid would be enough time, access to showers and secure storage, and stability to have found a job and – with good budgeting skills – have saved up enough money to have the rent paid the next month.
The current stipulations on housing assistance programs and negative stigma attached to drug users only seals our fate in the revolving door that is described as a lifestyle choice. I won’t claim all of us are responsible, well-meaning, or hard-working.
To be totally unassuming, I can only speak for myself. No one has given me a realistic chance before, yet they will willingly throw sacks of money down the drain to give these failing, floundering institutions chance after chance.
You want the solution to homelessness? Ask the homeless population what they think they need to get off the streets. You want the solution to drug addiction? Help the ones who ask, and the ones who don’t will eventually figure it out for better or worse, whether they end up sober, dead, incarcerated, or a functioning addict.
I’ve been asked time and time again, “Don’t you want help?” I have to take the question with a grain of salt because usually what they mean is, “Don’t you want to get off meth and on all kinds of mind-numbing sedatives and do therapy for the rest of your life?”
I wish just once someone would ask me, genuinely, and with the resources and open mind to hear and fulfill the answer, “What would help you get off the streets?”
Please, someone, just put me in an apartment for one month without expenses, and my next month will be paid by me. No one would ever see me with a cardboard sign again, and I would be a functioning member of society.
Because of the tracks on my arms, however, no one will ever take that at face value, and there’s a good chance I will remain a statistic, as will the rest of us on the street.
— Mina “Mallory” Marcellus, via [email protected]