Daughter of deceased homeless man asks for change - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Daughter of deceased homeless man asks for change

Melonie Yeats advocates for change for the mentally ill homeless after her father's body was found last week (Source: KFDA) Melonie Yeats advocates for change for the mentally ill homeless after her father's body was found last week (Source: KFDA)
Advocates for homeless reform showed support for Yeats during Tuesday evening's city council meeting, before moving outside city hall for a vigil for Jamey Johnson (Source: KFDA) Advocates for homeless reform showed support for Yeats during Tuesday evening's city council meeting, before moving outside city hall for a vigil for Jamey Johnson (Source: KFDA)
Supporters stand with signs along the steps of city hall (Source: KFDA) Supporters stand with signs along the steps of city hall (Source: KFDA)

"My name is Melonie Yeats. I am a social worker, but I am here as a daughter. My father was Jamey Scott Johnson. He recently passed away after being released from Randall County. His body was found outside a tire store."

This is how Yeats began her plea to the Amarillo City Council to help prevent more homeless deaths this winter.

She was not close with her father, Johnson, who died last week.

She had not seen him since she was 10 years old, his mental illness tearing him from her family.

But she's angry at the way he died, and does not want to see anyone else in Amarillo end this way.

"While the circumstances around my father's death are unclear, some things are" said Yeats. "At the time of my father's death he was not sheltered. The low that night was 16 degrees. I see no lack of reasoning behind the notion that the temperature did in some way impact his death."

An autopsy performed on Johnson only revealed an enlarged heart, according to Potter County Justice of the Peace Gary Jackson. Toxicology results from the autopsy will not be available for several weeks.

Yeats, and other officials who work with the homeless population, said Johnson did not check into any area shelters the night he died.

She credited that to the mental illness he's struggled with for decades.

"There has to be another option for those who are in a state of homelessness and so severely mentally ill that they cannot abide by the normal protocol of shelters or head housing," said Yeats.

City leaders agree this can be a problem for the mentally ill people released from jail now living on the streets, even with the several shelters available for the homeless population.

Yeats is pushing for a low-barrier shelter that would be easier for the mentally ill homeless to enter.

But some shelter leaders say there are already no-barrier shelters that could have helped prevent this.

"When they're ready for release, there's no ability to force them into an institution and their mental state doesn't always allow them to make the right decision, and I think that's what happened," said Mayor Paul Harpole. "It's a sad situation. We don't like it happening in our city."

Yeats' push for change is just getting started.

"[I will] continue to fight for the rights of choice, of options, of self-determination for those who are in a state of homelessness," said Yeats. "I wanted no one else to suffer the way that my father did, to die in the same conditions and freezing weather in the way that my father did."

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