New details in Tanglewood Mall incident shed light on mental health in homeless community

Local News

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR)— After an incident involving a homeless woman at Roanoke’s Tanglewood Mall, the resources available for the area’s homeless community was brought into question.

This stems from a call that Roanoke County Police responded to on Sunday afternoon, regarding a woman behaving erratically in Tanglewood Mall. Identified as 34-year-old Mandy Lavonne Lacey, police say she assaulted an officer, and, after her arrest, police found a deceased body of a baby in a shopping bag Lacey had with her.

Mandy Lavonne Lacey (Courtesy: Western Virginia Jail Authority)

This incident involving Lacey, who is believed to be homeless, has brought into question, what mental health resources are available and accessible to those who are homeless or displaced.

The Roanoke Area Ministries (RAM) House is the area’s largest day shelter. A worker at RAM House says that Lacey used to frequent the shelter but was always knows as a great person.

“You could not have wanted to talk to a nicer person,” the RAM House worker said. “She was a very sweet girl.”

The RAM House worker said Lacey had not been by the shelter in quite a while, but she had been spotted in the streets near Carilion Hospital recently before the Tanglewood incident. The worker explains that Lacey “had her way about her.”

According to the worker, the number of visitors that display signs of mental illness has increased. The RAM House does not provide services on-site, but they have the contacts to refer and connect visitors with mental health specialists and counselors.

“We are not counselors here, but we do try to put them on to the right place, to the right resource, so they can get the help that they need,” the RAM House worker explains.

Those who work at the RAM House say they notice the signs some visitors exhibit that indicate they could need professional help, but RAM House workers cannot suggest this themselves. Visitors must be the ones to ask for help in order to get a referral. Lacey was one that never asked for that help.

“If you do not ask for the help, and you know the help is there, we can’t force it on you. And if you don’t get it, it might not be a good outcome for you.”

RAM House workers say pride often gets in the way of asking for the help that one may need. Shelter visitor, Shane Fitzgerald, admits that pride is an obstacle he faces.

“I just figured I’d go on the streets. I don’t want to be a burden to nobody,” Fitzgerald said, after explaining his choice to no longer live with his brother. “So, I went on the streets, and I’ve been on it ever since.”

Fitzgerald frequents the RAM House to beat the summer heat, but he complements the services they provide and the way they treat their visitors. Workers at the RAM House note the care and outreach they strive for, but they have witnessed tragedy due to mental illness left untreated.

“Not being able to get the help they need. Not being able to be put to the right resources for the help that they need, and their life was just ruined, it was just ended,” a RAM House worker said.

In his time utilizing the RAM House’s services, Fitzgerald says that the displaced community gets treated very differently in public. He wants people to understand that homeless or displaced people are no different than everyday people.

“We’re human just like everybody else is,” Fitzgerald said. “We just don’t have a place to call home.”

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