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

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

For Shelly Clater, the struggle with severe mental illness began more than 30 years ago, when she was a 19-year-old single mother of two infant girls.

Clater began to slowly recede into her head, and one day her sister's boyfriend found Clater riding around on a Metro Transit bus, noticeably disoriented. The boyfriend brought Clater to her mom, who called 911 immediately upon seeing her.

"I lost touch with reality," Clater recalls.

As the only drop-in facility in Ramsey County, the APOLLO center has been a crucial resource for many in the community
Jayme Halbritter
As the only drop-in facility in Ramsey County, the APOLLO center has been a crucial resource for many in the community
The APOLLO center helped Lynne Nerenberg stay on medication
Jayme Halbritter
The APOLLO center helped Lynne Nerenberg stay on medication

Clater was admitted to the psychiatric wing of Hennepin County Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia — later reassessed as schizoaffective disorder. She went on antipsychotic meds and spent the next year at inpatient hospitals.

When she was released, Clater found it difficult to move forward with her life, she says. She took odd jobs at places like Kmart, Target, and a daycare center, but was quick to quit as soon as she felt a co-worker didn't like her.

In 2001, Clater was living in an apartment in Little Canada, completely isolated from the world other than her 15-year-old son. She was still on the antipsychotics, but again began to drift slowly away from reality, spending her days watching TV and arguing with the radio.

"I was so deep inside of my head," she says. "I was in a really bad, bad, bad place."

In a moment of clarity, Clater realized she needed help and called United Way's 2-1-1, at the time known as "First call for help." An operator told her to get out of the house, and recommended the APOLLO.

The APOLLO saved Clater from isolation. She began attending group sessions, and volunteered to answer phones at the center. She took an interest in politics after going to a current events class, and became involved in activism. She helped others register to vote, and contacted politicians to lobby for better services for mentally ill people.

Clater has been going to the APOLLO since 2001. She's now a co-facilitator of her own group with the National Alliance for Mental Illness, and attending workforce training with Vocational Rehab Services, a state-run service that helps Minnesotans with disabilities build skills to get jobs.

She's still trying to imagine what life will be like when the center closes.

"Without APOLLO, none of this would have happened," she says.


On a Tuesday evening in March, APOLLO clients are shooting free throws in the Merriam Park Community Recreation Center gym in St. Paul. They are all dressed in royal blue jerseys labeled "Apollo Eagles," save for one muscular guy in a do-rag who is sporting a Timberwolves jersey.

It's the championship game in St. Paul's Adaptive League, an all-ages league for people who are mentally or physically disabled. It's not exactly March Madness, but a few of these guys can shoot, and the stakes are high. APOLLO lost only one game during the regular season, and it was to Southside, the team they're playing tonight.

"Basketball is Southside's forte," says Mike Kane, the APOLLO team's coach. "I've been doing this for 10 years. Southside dominates basketball. We tend to dominate softball."

The game comes down to a nail biter. With two minutes left, APOLLO has lost its early lead, and Southside is ahead by four points. APOLLO makes a valiant effort to come back, but ultimately loses by six points.

"We had that, man!" screams the guy in the do-rag. "We had that. This is some bullshit, man."

The two teams shake hands, and the APOLLO players are presented with a consolation red ribbon.

Sports have been a major part of therapy at the APOLLO, but with the center closing in a few weeks, they are trying to figure out a way to keep the team going under a different organization's brand.

As the APOLLO prepares to close for good, everyone is scrambling to figure out what to do next. For a couple of months, a group of clients banded together and tried to save the APOLLO with letters and phone calls to politicians. But their cries went unanswered, and they've resigned themselves to their fate. Most staff members will stay on and work for other programs run by People Inc. In the meantime they are helping create transition plans for their clients.

For the more well-adjusted clients like Nerenberg, the APOLLO closing could have an upside. She feels ready to move on, she says, and plans to spend her newly freed up time trying get more involved in the Jewish community. She's also excited to go back to work, and will look into finding a job through the new program funded with the APOLLO money, possibly doing clerical work or customer service.

Not everyone is in quite such a hurry to move forward, however. Among staff and other clients, there is fear for what will happen to those who have come to depend so much on APOLLO.

"For some people," says O'Brien, "this is their only connection." 

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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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