Libba Phillips

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Among The Homeless - San Francisco Chronicle Letter to the Editor

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Among the homeless


Editor - While C.W. Nevius rightly links homelessness and mental illness in his Nov. 4
column, "Rights of mentally ill street people thwart efforts to prevent harm," he fails to
consider that the homeless person in question may also be an unreported missing person.
There are slightly more than 100,000 people listed as missing in the National Crime
Information Center (NCIC) missing persons database. But our eight years of research
show more than one million people are unreported missing. This gap allows the mentally
ill to become lost among the homeless.

When a person is reported as missing through NCIC, family members can be reunited
and take responsibility. In cases where family members do not exist or cannot take
responsibility, at least there is closure, and due process. Missing reports help prevent
homeless people from ending up as unidentified John or Jane Does, or becoming victims
of exploitative crimes.

Policy changes must be made at local, state and national levels to account for treatment
accessibility. Does the staff of San Francisco's new 311 program know that homeless
people should be checked against those in the NCIC missing database, and reported
missing, if possible.

We invite everyone to log onto our Web site www.outpostforhope.org to learn more.

Libba Phillips

Founder, Outpost for Hope

Lost In The Cracks Of The System: Treatment Advocacy Center

This guest blog on www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org illuminates the excruciating and unrelenting pain that results from NOT receiving timely and effective treatment for severe mental illness.  Our thoughts are with Libba and for the safe return of her sister.

My 25 year old sister Ashley disappeared in the spring of 1999 from a life on the streets in Tampa, Florida.

She was struggling with bipolar disorder and drug-addiction when she became homeless and then vanished without a trace. My family repeatedly appealed to law enforcement authorities to file a missing-persons report over the course of the next four years without success. A family friend intervened and contacted state government officials and eventually an official report was finally taken in December of 2002. By this time we had no idea if my sister Ashley was dead or alive. 

My family and I would eventually learn that during the years Ashley was unreported as missing, she had been exploited by pimps and predators on the streets, hit by a car, beaten, and arrested several times.  As we continued our search for her, my mother Michelle attempted to file the Baker Act three times with limited success.  The judge agreed the case had merit and approved the Baker Act but because Ashley had no address, law enforcement officials would not look for her.  We were never able to get The Baker Act facilitated to get Ashley into a safe location and obtain treatment.  She remained lost.   

In February of 2003, Ashley was located in North Carolina.  She had little memory of her four-year experience, had a broken eye socket and was eight months pregnant. We attempted to find the right treatment for her, but she refused to get any voluntary long-term help. We hoped for the best as she and her newborn baby moved in with my parents knowing that without proper medication and treatment, it was a matter of time before she would be gone again. Ashley did disappear again almost one year later.  After she was found, she had another baby, got on medication to treat bipolar disorder for a few months, and then tragically, disappeared once more.    

This chronic and unacceptable outcome leads me to ask why isn’t a more effective system in place that could prevent years of suffering for families who so desperately want to help a lost loved one with mental illness? It is my belief that if my sister had been acknowledged as ‘missing’ ten years ago and if involuntary treatment options had been available and facilitated; Ashley and her children would not continue to be at risk again today. 

As a result of my experience, Outpost for Hope was created, in an effort to inform society about ‘missing, missing persons’ who may be lost on the streets due to mental illness and/or addiction as well as to extend support to their families.  We are pioneering a new path to bring attention to those who are lost among us and to demand better options for their survival.  We hope you are inspired to join our efforts.  To learn more, please visit www.outpostforhope.org  

Libba Phillips
Founder of Outpost for Hope

Light Bulb Theory

Libba's Lightbulb Theory, posted 10 Dec 2005 11:29 PM by Thom Forbes, www.elephantonmain.com


I had an extremely illuminating conversation with Libba Phillips, the founder of Outpost for Hope, this morning, about the astounding amount of under-represented missing and unidentified persons in this country, and the hellish lives they and their families lead. The exact number is impossible to determine, but we were extrapolating seven-figure numbers based on what is reported. These are often people whose families have forsaken them, or have lost track of their whereabouts. Or they are running away from abusive families themselves. They usually fall into the many cracks of our social services and criminal justice system and, because of co-occurring illnesses that are not treated, are often preyed upon by pimps and drug dealers.

In the middle of our conversation, Libba offered "Libba's Lightbulb Theory." I think it is as good an explanation of why families who expect people who are addicted and/or mentally ill to suddenly "get it" and "make good decisions" about their lives are disillusioned, at best. Here's how Libba put it:

"Let's say you go to the hall closet to get a new bulb to put in a lamp. You walk back into the den and replace the bulb and turn on the switch. The light doesn't come on. So you check to see if the light bulb is good, and you make sure that you put it in right, and you check the cord to make sure that it's plugged in, and you test the circuit box to make sure you haven't blown a fuse. All of those things have to add up in order for the light bulb to go on. But it doesn't. The true source of your problem, it turns out, is the wiring. The wiring is the source of the power. If the wiring doesn't work, that's the source from which choices come from, and the ability to make good decisions, and the ability to move forward with some type of hope for a positive outcome."

"Many time families have the feeling that the light is going to come on, but if the wiring in the brain isn't right, if the chemistry has been altered by disease, it's just not going to happen unless that wiring can be fixed."

Are you a family member or caregiver with a lost loved one with mental illness and/or addiction?  I encourage you to visit www.outpostforhope.org to review critical 'Now What?" Recovery Planning guidelines prior to your loved one being located.  Being prepared for what to do after a person with mental illness and/or co-occurring substance abuse issues has been located may be the key to your success story.

Homeless, Lost, or Missing, Missing?

According to the FBI there are approximately 109,968 Missing Persons reported as missing in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database today. This means that law enforcement has taken a report from a family member who has a lost loved one and has entered it into the national database that can be cross referenced by other law enforcement agencies around the U.S.

There is however, another undefined silent population of over 1 million persons who are lost among us. The ''Missing, Missing' population; these are persons who may be unreported as missing with mental illness as well as dependent children, who may be lost among the homeless population or whose whereabouts are unknown.

Inconsistent reporting of missing persons combined with the stigma of drug addiction and mental illness contributes to silent crimes of exploitation of at risk persons and their children. There are detrimental effects not only to the person who is lost but to the existence of an unknown and unaccounted for child who may be lost with him or her. Some facts to consider:

People with mental illness, regardless of gender, are 2 1/2 more times likely to be the victims of violent crime than the general population.

An estimated 50% of homeless adults with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar depression have a co-occurring substance use disorder.

Individuals with co-occurring mental illnesses and substance use disorders are among the most difficult to stably house and treat due to the limited availability of integrated mental health and substance abuse treatment in most communities.

Consequences for society are costly as those with co-occuring disorders constantly recycle through a life on the streets, and in and out of healthcare and criminal justice systems. Without the establishment of more integrated treatment programs, the cycle will continue.

Outpost for Hope, a nonprofit agency dedicated to raising awareness of the missing, missing population suggests that families and caregivers visit www.outpostforhope.org to learn more about how to locate lost loved ones and plan for the recovery and reunification process.



(c) Libba Phillips 2005

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