HYANNIS — Freddie Rocha greeted David Chick with his usual questions: “When are we going home?” and “Did you come to take me home?”
Chick smiled and asked if he had been smoking cigarettes.
Rocha said, “No, I quit.”
Chick had arrived on Oct. 31 at 75 Pleasant St., the Larry Doughty House, a tired-looking state Dept. of Mental Health (DMH) rooming house in Hyannis where Rocha, 68, had been staying for three weeks. He has a private room there with a rubber mattress and a bed skirt for a sheet.
It’s the latest in a list of temporary addresses where Rocha has lived since he was evicted from his family home in Provincetown in September 2018 because his siblings wanted to sell the home. Mary Welles, of Yarmouth Port, and Dennis Rocha, of Connecticut, have both said they cannot afford to maintain it and allow their older brother to live there.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Rocha has been homeless ever since. Chick has taken on himself the dismaying work of trying to help Rocha find a permanent stable home.
More than a year later Chick admits he is close to giving up.
“[Freddie] wants to be in Provincetown and he deserves to be in Provincetown,” Chick said, but, he added, he doesn’t think the DMH employees care if Rocha has housing in Provincetown or not, and he and the family do not agree on what should happen next.
Homeless for the Summer
Last winter Rocha lived with Chick, who has kept Rocha connected to a maze of services. The goal has been to prevent Freddie’s having to leave Provincetown, his home of more than 40 years. But last summer Rocha slept on the streets.
Chick explained when their winter rental was up in May 2019, and an off-season hotel stay at the Cape Colony Inn ended in June, Chick found a summer rental for himself, but not for Rocha. Chick, an artist, also had a studio space, but the landlord would not allow Rocha to sleep there.
Chick recalled seeing Rocha in such bad shape on Aug. 2 that he knew he had to do something.
Rocha wore a black sweatshirt and “heat was radiating off of him,” Chick said. “If he went a few more days he probably would’ve had a heart attack. He was living on the streets. He was staying outside Cumberland Farms until two in the morning…. He was expiring from dehydration and exhaustion.”
As exhausted and miserable as he was, Rocha still didn’t want to get into a car, which is typical; he balks at the idea of going to the hospital.
When a DMH caseworker came to Chick’s studio to discuss Rocha’s case, they decided Rocha needed to be involuntarily committed under Section 12 of the Mass. General Laws, which allows mentally ill people to be committed for their own safety or the safety of others.
Chick said he told Rocha they were going to look at Harbor Hill, where Chick has submitted an application for an apartment on Rocha’s behalf. Last Friday, Rocha’s name was picked 134th out of 153 names for 11 available housing units in Provincetown, Chick said. Harbor Hill may still be an option for Rocha.
Chick then told Rocha they were driving to P.B. Boulangerie in South Wellfleet. Rocha, who had not slept soundly in weeks, conked out in the car. Chick drove him to a DMH facility in Hyannis. When Rocha refused to stay, they placed him under a Section 12 order, Chick said.
At Cape Cod Hospital, doctors treated him for dehydration, Chick said.
A psychiatrist adjusted his medications. The result is that Rocha is now healthier and more mentally clear, Chick said.
“So it was a blessing in disguise,” Chick said.
What Are the Rules?
After that, Rocha stayed temporarily at the state-owned Pocasset Mental Health Center and then in a respite program at Falmouth Hospital, Chick said.
That is where Chick ran into Dennis Rocha, Freddie’s brother from Connecticut.
Chick and Dennis had strong disagreements in the past — Chick went to court, unsuccessfully, charging that Dennis and his sister had Freddie evicted illegally — but they spoke amiably at the hospital, Chick said.
“I think we just started trying to work together and come together for this common goal of helping Freddie,” Chick said.
But since then relations have gotten worse again. Mary Welles, Rocha’s sister, stated by email that she and Dennis would like the DMH to control her brother’s care.
Both Welles and Dennis Rocha are currently arguing with Chick about whether Freddie should be brought back to Provincetown to live in a place that Chick has rented for him on Conant Street. Chick and Rocha stayed there last winter, and the landlord has invited them back, Chick said.
Rocha’s DMH caseworker informed the siblings that renting the Conant Street apartment will jeopardize Rocha’s state voucher and his ability to get into Harbor Hill, Welles wrote.
Chick, however, said that’s not correct. The voucher is usable at Conant Street because this time it is a year-round lease, he said. And it will not hurt Rocha’s chances to get into Harbor Hill should one of those apartments become available, Chick added.
The back and forth illustrates the difficulty in understanding the rules that govern the region’s complex social services net. In addition to the Hyannis-based Housing Assistance Corp. and the state DMH, Chick is currently working with ARC of Greater Plymouth, which operates a program that pays a live-in assistant to care for mentally challenged people. Chick is willing to be Rocha’s “live-in assist” temporarily but he needs someone to be his backup and would like someone else to eventually take over.
“David has put his life on hold to help Freddie,” said Julie Wheeler, who started a GoFundMe account to provide money for Chick to help Rocha.
Wheeler said she trusts Chick completely.
“He does everything for Freddie,” Wheeler said.
Still in Hyannis
Three weeks ago the DMH moved Rocha to his present group home on Pleasant Street. It’s called “a residential treatment center” for DMH clients. On Oct. 31, Rocha was alone in an upstairs room with a single bed.
Chick does not like this place and that is why he used the last of the GoFundMe account set up for Chick to pay Rocha’s housing expenses — the account originally had $15,765 — to pay for the Conant Street apartment.
Chick said Rocha will be able to afford the rent going forward if he uses his state housing voucher for $2,000 a month. Because Rocha spends his Social Security income on lottery tickets, Chick added, his money could in future be handled by a representative payee through the Society Security Administration, which the DMH is arranging.
As of Monday, however, Chick said he had decided not to take Rocha out of the Larry Doughty House, even though he believes it’s the wrong place for him, because he does not want to alienate DMH or the family.
Few people understand why Chick is so involved in Rocha’s life. Rocha’s siblings do not trust him. In addition, Chick faces persistent skepticism from the various agencies he has pulled in to help Rocha.
“I’m not family, I’m not the guardian, I’m not anything,” Chick said. “The one thing I get out of this is my connection with Freddie.”