One day a little over a year ago, Rhonda White was outside the Benning Road Metro station telling herself she would descend to the platform and jump in front of the next train. “I couldn’t take it: addiction, mental illness, and all of that,” she explained.
So White would end her life.
Unless a bus came.
Her mind ablaze, White decided if she saw a bus coming first, she would get on it. The bus came. Three buses in fact.
White told the first Metrobus driver she desperately needed to go to “a program”—a place where she could find help—so he outlined which buses she should take, in succession, to reach a charity across town called So Others Might Eat.
I met White in a rowhouse on North Capitol Street NW called Mary Claire House, a transitional housing program run by SOME. Next door is Jordan House, where White arrived on that October day a year ago. It is home to a 14-day program for people in the midst of a mental health crisis.
“Jordan is a voluntary program,” program director Emily Sullivan said. “So everybody at Jordan House wants to be at Jordan House and wants to try a community alternative, rather than be in a hospital.”
Most Jordan House clients are experiencing depression. Some are gripped by mania. Some, like White, want to harm themselves. Others confess to a fear they may harm others. Some are addicted to drugs. Some are homeless.
There is a psychiatrist and a registered nurse on the staff, but most of a client’s interactions are with a crisis counselor such as Eric Simpson Sr., who works two 24-hour shifts a week.
“Our basic style of working with individuals is being with and doing with,” said Simpson. “You typically find me with residents, watching television, playing chess with the residents, playing video games, playing music, the whole gamut.”
Poverty and homelessness often exacerbate mental health issues. Jordan House can help.
“When you have a place where you can stay and get a warm meal every night, that tends to help the symptoms subside a little bit,” Simpson said. “As time goes on, and as the people get a chance to integrate with a new community, you find that they’re more willing to open up than in previous times.”
It was a month ago that I visited Mary Claire House and met Rhonda White. This week I called to see how she’s doing. She told me she was about to move into the Conway Center, a SOME building that has apartments, employment training, and a health clinic. It’s across the street from the Benning Road Metro station, where she faced her fateful choice.