Switching from Sole to Soul Work
Auburn resident Dave Bilodeau, the Tri-County Mental Health Services OPTIONS Liaison in Androscoggin County, worked for Knapp as a Supervisor for 27 years before earning his degree in Social Services—and he has never looked back. After receiving his degree, he became a case manager for the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team in Lewiston; became an alcohol and drug counselor over 15 years ago. “I was working with a lot of people who were released from incarceration when the OPTIONS job became available,” said Dave. And the rest is history.
Dave had already been riding along with police in his previous position as a co-responder for Project Support You, making his transition into the new role a smooth one. “It was the natural thing for me,” he said. “Once I was in my current role, I met with every Police Chief in Androscoggin to tell them about the program and to build relationships. One Chief said he couldn’t size up a man on Zoom so I went up to meet him and we then had a great relationship.”
When police call Dave with overdose reports, he tries to meet the individuals in crisis and help get them what they need, whether it is naloxone, a warming shelter, or getting connected to treatment. Dave often rides along with police on wellness checks. “If someone hasn’t been seen for a while, they aren’t answering the phone, or if someone calls in that someone is suicidal, we go to check to make sure they are okay,” said Dave. “We go to get people help, not to get them in trouble. Now four years later, I think people are beginning to understand that.”
Dave maintains a list of local agencies that don’t have wait lists. “When someone’s ready, you need to act. I give them the list, explain the differences to them and they decide. I sit and help them make the call,” Dave said. “I set some people up with a PATH worker (a state program for people experiencing homelessness who are struggling with mental health or substance use). “There is a lack of housing to start with, and it’s particularly difficult for people experiencing homelessness who don’t have references, etc. Many places won’t take them.”
Dave receives referrals from families, hospitals, physical and mental health providers and churches. “I also meet regularly with recovery providers and do recovery rallies.” Dave regularly presents at schools and at community meetings such as chambers of commerce.
“One time family members called me about a gentleman who hadn’t seen his grandchildren in over five years because of his use,” said Dave.
“I got him into an agreement to be clean and sober for the month of December so he could see his children and grandchildren.”
The man got sober and was able to reunite with his family for Christmas for two years before he passed. “I still get cards from his family thanking me for getting to see their grandpa. You take what victories you can. They could have spent their life without meeting him,” said Dave.
“Unfortunately there is a strong stigma around this subject and work. Some people say we are wasting our time and money. When I encounter people who think this way, I ask them if this was your grandson or granddaughter or loved one, would you want this help; and they say yes,” Dave said.
Dave’s best advice to individuals he meets through this work?
Never give up and keep taking those little steps forward. Little victories add up. Always take that first step. There’s no such thing as a little victory. Every victory counts. Little victories are big and you have to take them.