Karen Bono Special to the Sentinel

Karen Bono Special to the Sentinel

I feel angry and ashamed at our lack of humanitarian consciousness, especially after meeting a mentally ill member of our community who has struggled to make a difference. 


This past year, I was involved in helping John Nelson Kull III raise money to refurbish a 20 drop-in center for mentally ill individuals. Nelson, who founded Pathways, suffers from schizophrenia. It was his dream to provide a place where the mentally ill who are homeless could get assistance. 


His mission is to provide a place during the day where they can get their most basic needs met — a shower, a meal, a place to do laundry and rest — before having to return to the streets. 


Before meeting Nelson, I had no idea what a drop-in center was, or even that one existed for 16 years in Orlando, even though I’ve been a lifelong resident. 


Nelson has become a nationally renowned speaker on behalf of mental-health issues, and he has scraped to acquire three properties that provide permanent housing for six residents. It doesn’t sound like much, but no one else has stepped up to accomplish what he has. 


So this begs the bigger question: Why aren’t more of us doing something to get involved and find a permanent solution? 
The mentally ill represent only a portion of Orlando’s total homeless population, but they number in the thousands. They are not transients, but members of our community with a disease of the brain. They are people who depend on government funding because many of them have no hope of getting better or finding a job. 


In light of our economic crisis, the county government has little choice but to slash funding that would benefit these individuals. Pathways has been told to expect about a 10 percent cut. With private founda tions also being hit hard, the loss to Pathways could amount to about $30,000 from its operating budget. This occurs at a time when Pathways hoped to raise funds to purchase more housing for the mentally ill. 


It’s disappointing to see funding cut to the folks who need it most. It’s with this in mind that we ask the public to help provide funds for permanent housing, food and basic necessities. 


Clothing and furniture are thoughtful gestures, but these individuals have nowhere to store these items. With Orlando’s population at more than 220,000, it seems that we could quickly remedy this problem with monetary contributions, no matter how small. 


Karen Bono lives in Orlando. To learn about contributing to Pathways, e-mail pathwaysproject@gmail.com.