CAJE Urges 'no To The Status Quo'
Congregations Acting for Justice and Empowerment sought positive movement from local officials on a number of issues during the May 7 Nehemiah Action at the Old National Events Plaza. The CAJE message: “Say no to the status quo.”
A capacity crowd of more than 1,500 heard Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke and others embrace the call in a number of ways.
This year, CAJE focused on three broad areas: the crisis caused by overcrowding of the Vanderburgh County Jail; the need for treatment alternatives for children in crisis, especially those with dual diagnoses of autism and mental illness; and the ongoing need for affordable housing.
Following a welcome and opening prayer from Father Ed Schnur, Pastor of St. Wendel Parish in St. Wendel and St Francis Xavier Parish in Poseyville, Rev. Amariah McIntosh of Cleves Memorial CME Church led a roll call of the congregations present. More than 20 responded, including Evansville-area Catholic parishes and other Christian congregations, and the Evansville Islamic Society. Members of those communities and others, including representatives of the Buddhist faith tradition, attended the event.
Mayor Winnecke announced that successful fundraising will enable renovation of one floor at United Caring Services, which will serve as a crisis intervention center to divert those with mental illness and addiction issues away from jail and into a setting that will afford them appropriate treatment.
The mayor said that work should be completed late this year, and that he believed ongoing efforts could result in operational funding for the unit shortly after it is ready to open.
In a related area, Vanderburgh County Commissioner Ben Shoulders told the large crowd that he would work to provide $40,000 in the 2019 budget to fund Aurora’s re-entry program for those being released from terms in jail or prison. Aurora has hired a second caseworker for its re-entry, which has seen a dramatic increase in its workload.
Aurora Executive Director Brian Kerney said that loss of the county funding, which began with this year’s budget, would negatively impact the availability of significant state funding in support of the re-entry program. Originally thought to be a commitment to an annual appropriation, the county council stated last fall that its $40,000 for Aurora was a one-time grant, not an ongoing appropriation.
Joe Easley of Old North United Methodist Church led a presentation on “Children in Crisis,” which focused on the lack of treatment options for young people with dual diagnoses of autism and mental illness. Although easy to identify, the problem is a tough one for local families to deal with because facilities that treat people with autism will not accept patients with a dual diagnosis of a mental illness, and facilities that focus on mental health will not accept patients with a dual diagnosis of autism.
When episodes escalate to potentially dangerous levels, families’ only recourse is dialing 911 – and that often leads to long stays in emergency rooms with no significant treatment.
CAJE is seeking to bring representatives of Southwestern Behavioral Healthcare and Deaconess Hospital together for quarterly meetings with CAJE’s Youth Behavioral and Mental Health research committee on ways to provide more than handcuffs and a jail cell to those with dual diagnoses who experience emergency episodes. Deaconess’ Scott Branam agreed to the meetings. “I gladly accept a seat at the table,” he told the crowd. Southwestern Behavioral Healthcare representative Faren Levell did not attend the meeting. Easley told the crowd he had expected Levell to attend. “Rest assured that we will be in touch with him about this,” Easley added.
CAJE also revisited the need for ongoing funding of Evansville’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Mayor Winnecke and City Council President Jim Brinkmeyer committed to seeking $500,000 for the fund in next year’s budget. Councilwoman Michelle Mercer attended, and told the crowd that she supported the funding concept but would not commit until the full council saw the city’s proposed budget later this year. Councilman Justin Elpers, who was unable to attend, sent a similar message with Mercer for the CAJE audience. That position also came in writing from Councilwoman Connie Robinson and Councilman Dr. H. Dan Adams.
CAJE will hold its annual Community Problems Assembly on Nov. 12 to report on progress made in each of these areas. It also set May 8, 2019, as the date for next year’s Nehemiah Action.