MINIS COLUMN: Advocate reached out to homeless
Homeless people needing an advocate with the right combination of compassion and experience were blessed to find Sheila Deas in their corner. In a lifelong career in the mental health field, Deas helped them and hundreds of others seriously challenged by life.
In her last position, family services director for Crisis Ministries, Deas helped families in the organization's Transitional Living Center regain their independence. She was intimately involved with all of the twists, turns and temporary setbacks that can occur when someone tries to get re-established.
Through it all, she was attentive and empathetic toward clients, says Selena Wilson, chief program officer for the organization. That was true when they missed getting jobs that had their names on them. It was true when they vented their frustrations about trying to parent at the center, a place neither private nor under their control. And it was true when it seemed that things were never going to happen for them.
Whether assisting clients coping with the drama that comes with having mental health, substance abuse or other problems, she was an available and nonjudgmental advocate, Wilson says.
For Deas, who died Feb. 23 at 56, it was about more than having a relationship with clients while they were assigned to her, Wilson says. Her ability to develop a rapport with clients made lasting relationships. Those who needed her after leaving Crisis Ministries did not hesitate to call on her.
Her passing creates a void among clients and colleagues, Wilson says. Deas was quick to recognize what staff members had accomplished. Respecting human beings was something she was very good at, says Wilson, who noticed that about her when they worked at the Charleston County Mental Health Center more a decade ago. It was Wilson's first experience in delivering mental health care, and she took note of how well Deas did many things.
She came to depend on Deas' sense of humor in the most stressful situations.
"Her sense of humor. Oh, my gosh," Wilson says. "She was funny. Her laugh. She had a really infectious laugh."
That laugh is one thing her co-workers will remember, Wilson says.
The way she loved to sing Stevie Wonder's "Happy Birthday" is another. Since everybody has a birthday, she took many opportunities to sing it. Each time she did, it was special.