DFW’s homeless gays heading north to Denton, advocate says

HUD housing intervention counselor Michael Raven says what has traditionally been considered an urban issue is growing in rural areas

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Michael Raven

HUD housing intervention counselor Michael C. Raven, says he has seen an increase in the number clients who are gay and homeless moving into Denton.

Raven serves as secretary for HOPE, Inc., which provides financial assistance and case management to families who are homeless or at-risk of being homeless and seeking to secure permanent housing.

Before coming to HOPE, which is non-faith-based, Raven worked for the Salvation Army.

Rven said that compared to Dallas, homeless numbers in Denton are low. The latest count is 103 people in the city of Denton and 547 in the county. Homelessness is more of a rural problem in Denton County, he said, and many of the county’s homeless live in tents in the woods.

Raven, who is himself gay, said the biggest problem he has seen with gay homelessness in Denton County is that the Salvation Army provides Denton’s only shelter — and that organization does not welcome gays or lesbians.

“It takes awhile to get someone off the street and into affordable housing,” Raven said. “We give them three years to graduate into self-sufficiency.”

Raven follows everyone who contacts his office.

“With housing counseling, we hope they’ll have a surplus each month,” he said.

The goal is to get them into transitional housing and then something permanent.

Among the many reasons for homelessness are mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse and family violence. But unemployment is the top reason for homelessness currently in Denton.

Of those who reported a cause, 20 percent said loss of a job and another 15 percent were “unable to pay rent or mortgage,” mostly related to employment issues.

Not everyone who is homeless was without work, Raven said, but some may be working at a much lower-paying job or only finding part-time work.

Raven said he has notes about available jobs all over his office and is constantly checking a number of sources. If he knows a client has a particular skill, he tries to make the connection.

But he said employers are terrible about taking advantage of the homeless.

Raven cited one case of a client with a degree in accounting. A retail store didn’t have an accounting position open, but hired her as a cashier and taught her the accounting process for their business at the same time. After four months, she was doing most of the store’s accounting work but was still being paid as a cashier.

A major retailer hired another of his clients. When they found out that she had a degree, which required a higher salary by their own company rules, they fired her, Raven said.

Once every two years, Denton counts its homeless population. Raven is part of that counting process, which will start after the New Year.

He said he doesn’t like to just show up and take census figures, so he asks his HOPE donors for personal care items and blankets to distribute on counting night.

While usually associated with urban areas, Raven said homelessness is increasing in rural areas.

During the recession, he’s noticed that everyone’s watching their money. But he thinks that people are just being more prudent because homelessness could happen to anyone.

Contact HOPE at 940-380-0513.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Dallas doctor chosen for new oversight board

Dr. Brady Allen chosen based on work with Dallas County Medical Society on substance abuse issues

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

ADVOCATE  |  Dr. Brady Allen of Dallas said members of the new Texas Physician Health Program, to which he has been appointed, will be advocates for the doctors with whom they deal. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
ADVOCATE | Dr. Brady Allen of Dallas said members of the new Texas Physician Health Program, to which he has been appointed, will be advocates for the doctors with whom they deal. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Dr. Brady Allen has been appointed to the board of the new Texas Physician Health Program.

For the first time, physicians in Texas can report themselves voluntarily for substance abuse and physical and mental health issues without jeopardizing their medical licenses. Friends, relatives, patients or co-workers who have reason to suspect problems may also make referrals.
The law creating this new board passed in the last legislative session. The board was formed last November and includes six medical doctors.
In addition to Allen, who is openly gay and is one of the area’s foremost HIV specialists, the board includes Dr. Allison Jones, a psychiatrist

from Austin who is lesbian.

Allen said he was chosen for experience he has working with the Dallas County Medical Society on substance abuse issues. But he thinks inclusion of gay and lesbian members on the board sends a message that this new program is safe and welcoming.

“We’re hoping to be physician advocates,” Allen said.

Previously, doctors referred to the Texas Medical Board for substance abuse issues would be investigated for disciplinary action.

Allen said that when the board was created, about 150 physicians were transferred to them for their recommendations and oversight. He said the board is hoping to get about 60 new referrals a year.

“Other states that have done this have had great success,” he said. “We’re modeling ourselves after other successful programs.”

Doctors can be referred for drug and alcohol abuse. Those found with addiction problems can be referred for treatment and then followed for a period of five years.

For the first year, they undergo random urine testing weekly. When they successfully complete that year, the monitoring and testing schedule can be reduced.

Allen said that most doctors entering this program go for an extended 90-day treatment program rather than the more common, but less successful, 30-day treatments.

Doctors may be referred to the panel for mental and physical problems as well.

A variety of conditions may prompt concern. Dementia, bipolar disorder or Parkinson’s Disease are three Allen mentioned.

A doctor with bipolar disorder might need his or her medication checked and the panel could require supervision of a psychiatrist. Parkinson’s, which causes shaking, might require a surgeon to stop operating. A physician with Alzheimer’s could be monitored to determine when he needed to retire.

Some mental problems are a result of daily stress, Allen said, adding that the routine stress could be compounded for lots of gay and lesbian professionals who are not out at work. He said he wondered whether that contributes to self-destructive behaviors.

Allen said he thinks the program will be very successful.

“We have a big economic hammer over their head,” he said. “If their license is in jeopardy, they could lose their livelihood.”

While confidentiality for the doctor is assured, patient safety is also important. To maintain confidentiality, a doctor signs an agreement with a long list of conditions. Failure to comply with any of them can move the case to the medical board for punishment.

The program is self-sustaining, costing physicians who participate $1,200 annually. Those subject to random testing pay for their own screenings.

More information is available online at txphp.state.tx.us.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 10, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas