In this edition, we run our second of three installments on traumatic brian injury, or TBI. In the first installment (All in their heads, May 27) Street Roots ran an in-depth feature piece introducing the subject, and Nick Patton, a formerly homeless Portlander who was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia for seven years when he was really having seizures from TBI that happened earlier in his life.
On page 3 of this edition we highlight why diagnosing TBI on the streets matters, in more ways than one. We introduce another individual affected by TBI, Jamie Smith, a veteran who lost his job, ran out of money, and eventually became homeless. Six years later he has finally won his Social Security Disability claim with the help of a local non-profit, Central City Concern, and the law firm Swanson, Thomas and Coon.
Both Nick Patton and Jamie Smith now have homes, and are productive members of society. But that’s not the case for many people experiencing homelessness who may be being misdiagnosed medically, or not receiving the disability assistance they both qualify for and deserve.
SR has talked to many doctors, medical professionals, health department representatives, researchers, attorneys representing cases on brain injuries, along with social service workers who all believe that the TBI is not only a cause for concern, but may make up a significant portion of the homeless population.
“Being able to recognize that there is a true disability as opposed to willful noncooperation is helpful, and worth investigating,” said by Dr. Stephen Hwang.
Yet, as Portland Attorney Cheryl Coon told SR, the question remains: “Whose keeping track of TBI? Nobody.”
That’s a problem.
From talking to some experts in the field, it appears that there is a slight caution, or resistance when talking about how to move forward in Portland concerning brain trauma and homelessness. With a lack of understanding of the issue at multiple systems levels, coupled with the lack of practical resources in the health care field, and the lack of revenue with both government and non-profits working with people, it’s understandable that the answers to TBI on the streets, and the solutions involved seem overwhelming.
SR will be continuing its coverage on TBI in future editions, including looking at a roadmap of how other communities are moving forward. In cities where studies have already been done, the rate of people with TBI on the streets was through the roof. We will look at how those cities paid for such studies, and what they are doing today to incorporate their findings into different systems. The outcomes could be significant, even if we collectively are still at an elementary stage of understanding the problem.
For example, research locally could help hundreds, possibly thousands of disability claims to move forward. It could also revolutionize the way we think about treating people on the streets, both medically and from a human perspective.
Not to put the cart before the horse, but SR is hoping to build a case for local government and foundations working in the health care field to look further into the matter. We know from working with the medical examiners office and local government on homeless deaths, that there are now new ways to think about identifying systemic problems in the work to end homelessness. There’s no reason to think that we can’t add another tool, in this case, possibly a major tool in that fight.