Mental health resources dwindle as the APOLLO Resource Center closes its doors

Funding cuts hit Minnesota's long-standing drop-in center

Clients talk about the APOLLO center as if it's a life preserver keeping them from drowning in isolation. Some fear inpatient hospitalization or adult foster care will be their only alternative once the center closes.

Says Clater: "We have no backup plan."


Lynne Nerenberg is a regular at the APOLLO, one of a few dozen who inhabit the center every weekday, frequently for up to eight hours.

A bespectacled 62-year-old with dark, thin hair, Nerenberg suffers from schizophrenia. Before finding the APOLLO seven years ago, she was in and out of hospitals and treatment centers, lost and unwilling to cope with her illness.

"They definitely helped me stay on medication," Nerenberg says. "I was afraid of the stigma and paranoid of the effects of the medication ... and they helped me work through it so I could stay on medication and improve."

A native of St. Paul, Nerenberg was diagnosed with schizophrenia late in life. She attended Macalester College in the '70s, and after earning a B.A. in political science, took jobs freelancing for newspapers around the Twin Cities, including the St. Paul Dispatch and the Entertainer (which would later be rebranded as the Twin Cities Reader).

By the mid-'80s, Nerenberg had become deeply religious, and moved to New York City to live in a Hasidic neighborhood of Brooklyn, she says. She worked odd jobs to pay rent — once as a temp in the accounting department of the New York Times — and started taking night classes at the New School, graduating with a master's degree in media studies.

In the mid-'90s, after her father died, Nerenberg moved to California to take care of her mother. Within a few years, her mom suffered a stroke and died. That began Nerenberg's downward spiral.

"I couldn't handle the stress," she says.

Before long, Nerenberg was homeless and living on the streets of Fargo. She found a shelter that would let her stay if she agreed to see a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with schizophrenia.

Nerenberg brought her illness under control with Risperdal and moved into a supportive house. After a year, she came back to Minnesota and found an apartment in a building on Dale Street in St. Paul.

It was the same building that houses the APOLLO, though at the time, Nerenberg was apprehensive about the treatment center.

"I was paranoid," she recalls. "I thought that they would commit me if I joined APOLLO."

After moving into the apartment, Nerenberg quit her medication and quickly began to decompensate. She rarely left the apartment, and stopped taking care of herself, even when she developed a debilitating case of arthritis.

One day in 2005, the apartment's manager came into her unit to tell her she was being evicted, and found Nerenberg crawling around on the carpet. She was committed to the psychiatric wing of Regions Hospital, and spent the next year in treatment centers and halfway houses.

Discovering the APOLLO in 2006 gave her new life. She started attending group sessions for stress management and self-esteem building. She took current events classes, and was even able to practice writing again in a creative literature class.

Unlike at hospitals and other treatment facilities, she didn't feel judged at APOLLO. Though staff still charted her behavior, she didn't feel like they were out to get her.

Nerenberg has been going to the APOLLO almost every weekday since she first arrived seven years ago. So when a staff member told her the center was closing, she was devastated.

"I felt like I had been punched in the stomach," Nerenberg says. "It was very visceral."


Only a year ago, Darren Beckom was living on the streets of St. Paul, spending most nights at shelters around the Twin Cities.

Beckom has struggled with schizoaffective disorder his entire life, and in addition to antipsychotics and other prescriptions, was self-medicating with a cocaine habit. Beckom's case manager first urged him to check out the APOLLO in 2011, but he wasn't interested.

"I didn't know nothing about it," says Beckom. "I thought it was just a homeless shelter."

Beckom eventually came around and decided to try APOLLO, hoping it could help him get clean. He attended group therapy for chemical dependence, and later stress and anger management. He kicked the coke habit, and the staff helped him find an apartment.

Beckom comes to the center almost every day now, often just to hang out with other clients. But now that APOLLO is closing, he worries about relapsing.

"I've been clean for 11 months now, and that's only by APOLLO being here helping me," he says. "Getting involved in these meetings and these groups is what's been keeping me along the way. Now if that leaves, I don't know what I'm gonna do."

The next closest drop-in center is in Minneapolis, but Beckom says it's hard to make the trip every day. Beckom is also concerned for some of the patients he's become close with throughout the past year, some in far worse condition than him.

"Right now, there's no other option on the table," says Beckom. "We still hoping and praying and wishing for the best, that this could stay open."


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11 comments
amystor78
amystor78

Too often drugs are forced on people as the only answer, while adequate help with life planning is not done. See Dr. Peter Breggin's work and others that discuss the toxic effects of anti-psychotic drugs. I housed three homeless people for sixth months. I found that their apparent mental illness sympotms went away after 3-5 days with a roof over their heads. But services rush to medicate people, and usually do not help people solve their economic problems, then they are dependeton the system for life.

I tried working with the Department of Rehabilitation Services, but they only referred me to menial jobs that did not pay enough to live on, and did not provide counselling that was geared toward moving me forward. Rather, workers seemed to be trying to diminish me and discourage the pursuit of adequate work. I have heard many other people say the DHS is a joke, and one is better off not wasting time with it.

amystor78
amystor78

Too often drugs are forced on people as the only answer, while adequate help with life planning is not done. See Dr. Peter Breggin's work and others that discuss the toxic effects of anti-psychotic drugs. I housed three homeless people for sixth months. I found that their apparent mental illness sympotms went away after 3-5 days with a roof over their heads. But services rush to medicate people, and usually do not help people solve their economic problems, then they are dependeton the system for life.

I tried working with the Department of Rehabilitation Services, but they only referred me to menial jobs that did not pay enough to live on, and did not provide counselling that was geared toward moving me forward. Rather, workers seemed to be trying to diminish me and discourage the pursuit of adequate work. I have heard many other people say the DHS is a joke, and one is better off not wasting time with it.

amystor78
amystor78

Too often drugs are forced on people as the only answer, while adequate help with life planning is not done. See Dr. Peter Breggin's work and others that discuss the toxic effects of anti-psychotic drugs and alternatives. I housed three homeless people for sixth months. I found that their apparent mental illness sympotms went away after 3-5 days with a roof over their heads. But services rush to medicate people, and usually do not help people solve their economic problems, then they are dependeton the system for life. People are having good results using vitamin therapy instead--see www.truehope.com, a Canadian nonprofit. A nutritional approach has worked for me without the stigmatizing side effects of antipsychotic drugs.

I tried working with the Department of Rehabilitation Services, but they only referred me to menial jobs that did not pay enough to live on, and did not provide counselling that was geared toward moving me forward. Rather, workers seemed to be trying to diminish me and discourage the pursuit of adequate work. I have heard many other people say the DHS is a joke, and one is better off not wasting time with it.

geraldotis
geraldotis

While the mental health services in MN are adversely affected by cuts in funding, the entire system is dysfunctional for non-monetary reasons as well. The court commitment procedure is often flawed by providing slip-shod attorneys for poor clients who do not provide for a "vigorous defence" as required by state law, mental health personnel, including psychiatrists, often operate on the basis of hearsay or simply carry forward diagnoses made by others rather than doing an independent assessment. There is a total reliance on medication rather than attempting to understand a patient's problems. Patients are often dumped into ill-equipped nursing homes with inadequately trained and overworked staff. Guardians do not always advocate for their patient's needs and rights. The provisions of the Patients Bill of Rights are routinely ignored. Oversight agencies do not provide oversight. Ombudsmen are unresponsive to complaints. There needs to be a comprehensive examination and overhaul of the whole court-mental health-residential care system.

tom.evenstad
tom.evenstad

I feel the same way. I believe the MN MEDIA needs to finally call out the MN S CT, Legislature and Governor Dayton on MSOP funding so excellent, needed programs such as this that help people VS torture them can keep their doors open! We need more mental health beds and resources in the community--not less!

tom.evenstad
tom.evenstad

I agree. I was hoping with the Federal Court stepping on the State's neck that somebody--Gov Dayton, Senate Finance Committee would finally reverse course on this Unconstitutional Punitive Prevention Model which is the MSOP, but no Official in MN has the compassion and the courage to transform MSOP into DOC beds and release the HosPrisoners who do not remotely meet real commitment criteria as required by the Constitution and US Supreme Court case law which MN REFUSES TO FOLLOW KNOWING THE CORRUPT BUSH APPOINTEES WILL BACK THEM AT THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.

brendajhanson
brendajhanson

It is great that there are urgent care centers and hospitals, etc. for emergency situations.  It is sad to see a place close that allowed people to gather and be social with each other and feel safe to do so without being judged by society.  I can't imagine how lonely and isolated mental illness makes a person feel.  It breaks my heart to read that a wonderful facility that works for these people is going to close. 

tom.evenstad
tom.evenstad

This is an outrage that Mental Health Faculties are still being cut to pay for the 75 $ Million Dollar MSOP McTREATMENT HABITRAIL when MSOP doesn't even have the 700+ Worst of worse as they are on the street:

www.MSOPTaskForceInfo.blogspot.com

tom.evenstad
tom.evenstad

It is MSOP that is forcing this closing and many others.

vespa50sp
vespa50sp

MSOP costs are certainly part of it. The state will probably continue to try to find money, including county property tax money, to run it. Health Care/Medical Assistance rolls and costs continue to rise also. I think the state pays 50% of the costs there currently, and health care costs continue to rise at a 5% a year clip (quite low historically). With the population getting older and becoming eligible for medicaid (it pays for nursing homes for the indigent) overall program costs will continue to rise.

On the upside, crime is down so there is room in the jails, and jail cells are relatively cheap compared to MSOP or a Nursing Home (Ok, just sort of kidding)

 
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