East Texas shelter director warns of homeless mental health issues

LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - An East Texas women’s shelter director is voicing concern at a continuing problem of homeless women suffering mental illness, who need care and shelter she can’t give them.

Helen Johnson of Longview’s ‘House of Hope’ says she has seen numerous cases of homeless women with mental disabilities show up at her shelter.

“For over 15 years we have dealt with this same problem. However it seems to have worsened over the last few months. I’ve had 3 women come in that were in the same category,” Johnson says.

A recent one, we’ll call her Joy, personifies the problem.

“They sleep in the woods. So mentally ill that she just appears at our door. Barefooted, malnourished, mats in her hair. No concept of reality,” Helen says.

Another problem at the shelter is that staff is not qualified to treat mental illness, they can’t even give medication for it.

Covid is another problem Johnson has to consider.

“Because of Covid we’re not taking just anyone off the street to come in,” she says.

“They’re on the street, they’re dying from mal-nutrition, diseases they pick up out there,” says Sheila Woody, who herself battled mental disabilities at one time.

Johnson is now on a mission to push lawmakers to provide care for the mentally ill.

‘I’ve been saying for 15 years I’m going to be a voice in the community. And I’m going to get the laws changed. And if I have to go to Austin and stand with a megaphone, then somebody needs to listen,” she says.

And Johnson says the women often fall victim to those who would exploit them.

“We can not make them stay here. There has to be a place provided. We need help. I need help. This woman is a human being,” she says.

Sometime overnight, Joy slipped out and disappeared.

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