[Hpn] New York, NY - Mourning a Life Shortened by Despair - New York Times - August 14, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Wed, 14 Aug 2002 18:37:58 -0500

Mourning a Life Shortened by Despair 
NYC Human Resources Administration and the Administration for
Children's Services responded inadequately to the Wilson family's case.

By LYDIA POLGREEN - New York Times - August 14, 2002

A teenager whose suicide in a Harlem shelter hotel room last week
raised concern about the city's social service system was buried
yesterday as friends, relatives and city officials mourned a short life
shattered by deep despair.

The teenager, Jason-Eric Wilson, 16, took an overdose of
medication last Monday in the hotel room where he, his father,
Eric Wilson, and his 11-year-old sister, Lani, were sent after
spending most of two days and a night in the Emergency Assistance
Unit in the Bronx, the office where homeless families must go to
apply for emergency shelter. 

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg called for an investigation into why an
ambulance took more than a half-hour to respond, and into whether
the city's Human Resources Administration and the Administration for
Children's Services responded inadequately to the Wilson family's case.

At his funeral yesterday, some mourners, in anger and grief, said
the family's plight pushed him over the edge, some said it was
the city's poor response to the case, and others said it was a
combination of both. But while no one will ever know exactly why
Jason ended his life, it was clear that his depression was profound.

The Rev. Eric Wohner, an evangelical minister who knew Jason only
for the last month of his life, gave Jason's eulogy in a funeral
home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, addressing more than 100 mourners,
including Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Wolcott and the city's public
advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, who has been critical of the city's
handling of the growing number of homeless families. 

With Jason's body, dressed in a tan blazer, white shirt and a
diamond-patterned tie, tucked into a white and gold coffin with
the words "Dearest son and brother" embroidered into its lining
nearby, Mr. Wohner told of how he met Jason.

On July 9, Jason sat down on a wooden bench in a playground and
poured his heart out to Mr. Wohner, who was preaching to young
people in Bellaire Playground in Queens Village. 

Mr. Wohner recounted the conversation. " `Pastor Eric,' he said, 
`sometimes I hear voices. I have heard them for a long time. 

Do you think that's strange?' I said: `Jason, that is not strange. 
You have experienced an incredible amount of stress and pain.' "

In an interview after the funeral, Mr. Wohner gave a harrowing
account of how Jason slipped deeper and deeper into despair.
Jason told Mr. Wohner how his father had become sick with
leukemia, eventually requiring a bone marrow transplant that left
him unable to work. 

Mr. Wilson, who graduated from Vassar College with a degree in
biology, had worked in the financial services industry, providing a
middle-class life for his children in the Midwood section of Brooklyn.

But over the past 10 months, after the family was evicted from
the apartment it had lived in for 14 years, Jason descended
deeper into depression and anxiety, Mr. Wohner said. 

Jason told him the voices in his head were becoming more insistent,
telling him to kill himself.

"It was clear that this intelligent child needed help," Mr. Wohner said.

Perhaps moved by Mr. Wohner's warmth, Jason pledged his life to
Jesus Christ that day, declaring that he had been saved and
embracing a new faith, Mr. Wohner said.

Touched by Jason's story, Mr. Wohner gave the boy his cellphone
number and said, "If you hear those voices you can call me."

The call came in the middle of the night two weeks later, from
Jason's father, Mr. Wohner said. They had nowhere to go, Mr.
Wilson told him. The Wilsons found their way to the city's
Emergency Assistance Unit and eventually to temporary shelter in

Mr. Wohner said that he had been planning to help shepherd the
family through the housing process, but that the Wilsons must
have lost his number because they never called.

Ten days later, Jason was dead.

Yesterday, as he was buried on a shady hillside in the tranquil
heart of Green-Wood Cemetery, friends and family members, some of
whom had had no idea the Wilsons were in such trouble, wondered
what they could have done to help.

"We didn't know any of it," said Wanda Campbell, who had known
Jason since he was 9, when he started going to their home in
Lansdale, Pa., as a Fresh Air Fund child. 

"He was such a bright, wonderful child. He loved coming to us for
the summers and loved being in the outdoors, away from it all. 
I just can't believe he is gone."

Others wondered how the city could have failed to recognize the
family's desperate needs.

"It was so obvious what they needed," Mr. Wohner said. "It was
obvious that Jason was in trouble and that he needed stability.

How this could have happened, how no one could have taken care of
them, I just do not understand. They failed this family."

Mr. Wilson chose not to speak of his anger yesterday, but rather
to remember his son as he was.

"He was more than I ever, ever, ever dared ask the Lord for," Mr.
Wilson said. "Jason will continue to teach me."

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