[Hpn] Homeless Man Starts Mental Health Blog

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sun, 11 Sep 2005 08:46:36 -0400


      Homeless man starts mental health blog

      September 11, 2005

      By John Zicconi Vermont Press Bureau



      MONTPELIER - A Vermont homeless man has started an online community 
dedicated to sharing information about the troubled Vermont State Hospital.

      Morgan Brown, who has lived homeless in the Montpelier area for almost 
a decade and uses public computers at several libraries, recently started an 
Internet blog - or Web log - dedicated primarily to the psychiatric facility 
in Waterbury.

      "This is a very hot topic and there needs to be open discussion as 
well as a lot of public involvement, input and debate," Brown said. "There 
needs to be forums to let that happen."

      His blog has received some 300 hits since it was established two weeks 
ago. It can be found at www.beyond-vsh.blogspot.com.

      Vermont State Hospital is a 54-bed psychiatric institution for 
Vermont's most severely mentally ill. It recently lost its federal 
certification over safety concerns - two patients in 2003 committed 
suicide - and the Douglas administration is now scrambling to find ways to 
close the 113-year-old facility.

      A five-year plan is being developed that would relocate people who 
don't require intense hospitalization to as many as three community 
facilities run by area mental health agencies, while the state hopes to 
build a new, smaller hospital for those needing greater care somewhere in 
Chittenden or Washington counties.

      Brown said he has never been a Vermont State Hospital patient, but 
that he occasionally uses local mental health services. He was a patient at 
a state hospital in Massachusetts before coming to Vermont in 1988, he said.

      He said it is vital that people understand the complexity of mental 
health issues. He started the blog with the hope that various people will 
eventually form a research "team" and use the online tool to keep people 
informed about not only the state hospital but other mental health issues as 
well.

      He also set up a comments section on the blog that will act as a chat 
room where readers can either post their observations or engage others in 
discussion.

      "I want to make information more available," Brown said. "I'm hoping 
this blog will be one of the places people can get started finding 
information, and be used as a jumping-off point."

      Jack McCullough, project director for the Mental Health Law Project 
run by Vermont Legal Aid, said the blog could be a valuable service to 
Vermonters and has already volunteered to contribute.

      His first contribution - a short essay on the state's new preferred 
psychiatric drug list for Vermont state health programs - was posted earlier 
last week.

      "There is a lot of public discussion right now about the future of 
Vermont State Hospital," McCullough said. "This seems like a way to have a 
public discussion a lot of people can participate in."

      McCullough has known Brown, a noted mental health advocate, for about 
a decade, and said the 49-year old has credibility in the advocacy 
community.

      McCullough predicted the blog will be as successful as those who 
contribute.

      "A lot depends on who reads it and who participates," McCullough said. 
Whether state officials pay any real attention "depends on who posts and the 
quality of those posts."

      After a quick scan of the site, Vermont Health Commissioner Paul 
Jarris said he welcomes its mission.

      "I think it will be a good source of information and I have asked our 
staff to review it on a daily basis so we can be aware or some of the issues 
and questions out there," Jarris said. "Periodically I anticipate we will be 
posting things to it as we want to inform people about things that are going 
on."

      Brown said he welcomes official input from the state, but he also 
hopes to find a state mental health worker willing to blog under a pseudonym 
so readers can get the inside story, not just the official state line.

      Brown has been homeless most of his adult life. He uses his monthly 
Social Security check to buy food, do laundry and pay for the occasional 
hotel room, but he often depends on the goodwill of friends and 
acquaintances who allow him to sleep on couches, on porches and in cars.

      "I'm very careful about not going into details about who or where," 
Brown said. "You have to be careful because they don't mind doing it for 
you, but they don't want a line out the door."

      Brown said he learned how to use a computer through the help of 
librarians and children who frequented a public library he used when he 
lived in Barton during the mid 1990s.

      "I got a Hotmail account to keep up with some people I know," Brown 
said. "Some of the little kids would come up to me - seeing I was having a 
hard time - and help me out."

      He taught himself blogging skills, and now runs several Web forums. 
His primary blog - norsehorses-turf.blogspot.com - focuses on homeless 
issues but includes information about breaking news events like Hurricane 
Katrina.

      Friends occasionally let him use their personal computers, but Brown 
primarily blogs on public terminals at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library on Main 
Street in Montpelier and the state law library in the Pavilion Building on 
State Street.

      "Some days I'm not up to it," said Brown, who is unable to work due to 
disabilities. "But when I do it, I can average from two to six hours - 
sometimes longer - per day if there is something hot to keep up on."

      Brown started the blog after reading recent editorials and op-ed 
columns in various newspapers criticizing aspects of Gov. James Douglas' 
plan to replace the state hospital.

      Being just two weeks old, information posted on the blog is still 
limited. But it does contain several recent news clips, links to other state 
hospital and mental health sites, and a recently published op-ed column 
penned by Jarris.

      The blog "will provide some balance to what is out there," Brown said. 
"The state has its own communication sites."



      Contact John Zicconi at john.zicconi@rutlandherald.com