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Court system struggles with what to do with homeless man

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BLOOMINGTON — Homeless and unemployed for more than a decade, David Olsen sits in a booking cell in the McLean County jail, waiting for the legal system to figure out what to do with him.

Six criminal cases — five misdemeanors for trespassing and a felony theft charge — have kept Olsen jailed since mid-October and he is suffering from a worsening state of dementia.

A petition filed by PATH, a local agency that provides services to the homeless, seeks a state guardianship for Olsen to provide for his care and housing.

But at 56 years of age, Olsen is opposing the petition that could place him in a nursing home. A Feb. 13 jury trial has been scheduled by McLean County Judge Rebecca Foley.

At a December hearing, Olsen explained his position to Foley and Dan Daneen and Rusty Depew, lawyers assigned to the guardianship case.

"I can take care of myself. I will find a place to go. I'm not going to a nursing home. I don't have a guardianship. I won't have a guardianship," said Olsen.

Bloomington lawyer Rob Carter has been named to represent Olsen in his challenge; a public defender is handling his criminal case.

Previously, PATH Executive Director Karen Zangerle testified that Olsen has a long history of going from shelters, to the street, to the jail. Psychiatric evaluations have deemed Olsen to be disabled, she said.

The use of guardianship petitions for homeless people with mental illness is a new option being used in McLean County. Zangerle said she filed six such petitions last year.

The McLean County State's Attorney's office cooperates with the guardianship process that recently placed two other jail inmates in nursing homes.

Depew serves as temporary guardian, while Daneen, McLean County's public guardian, handles housing, financial and other matters. 

Daneen was among other state-appointed public guardians recently removed by Gov. Bruce Rauner as part of the new administration's review of all state appointments. Rauner said the appointees may be renamed.

On a long-term basis, the Illinois Office of State Guardian looks after disabled people who need a permanent guardian.

In Olsen's case, the state guardian's office has concerns about his apparent unwillingness to comply with a move to a nursing home.

In a conference call during a hearing on Friday, a lawyer with the state suggested that placing him in a mental health facility is a better option at this time.

"Trying to get a nursing home to take someone like this is is virtually impossible. They don't have to," Pamela Connell told Foley and the lawyers.    

Long history

Olsen's criminal history in McLean County spans more than three decades, dating back to his acquittal in 1993 on sexual abuse charges. Since then, he has logged 35 misdemeanors, one felony and nine ordinance violations.

More than 24 of the misdemeanors were for trespassing on private or public property and for refusing to leave several places that have provided shelter and medical care in the past: Salvation Army's Safe Harbor, the McLean County jail and Advocate BroMenn Medical Center.

A snapshot of Olsen's life shows a man who is chronically homeless and unemployed with visible signs of the mental and physical deterioration that often comes with life on the streets. In the past seven years, Olsen has dropped more than 30 pounds and grown a long white beard that makes him look older than his 56 years.

In a majority of the cases, the state dismissed charges against him, according to a review of court records. In several other cases, Olsen pleaded guilty and served jail time.

He listed Safe Harbor and Home Sweet Home Mission as his addresses in 2008 and 2009 court documents. By 2011, he was listed as homeless.

Since 2009, Olsen has spent 569 days in the county jail.

His most recent stay of 135 days so far has put Olsen among about a dozen mentally ill inmates in the jail's booking area, a difficult situation for jail staff that improves when inmates leave for more stable environments.

"A more streamlined process to guardianship and housing will help the jail tremendously in not becoming a de facto nursing home/supported living facility for people who show no criminal behavior other than to be homesless and ill," said Jackie Mathias, with jail inmate services.  

In 2013, Olsen's public defender asked for a mental health evaluation to determine if he understood the nature of the charges and could assist with his own defense.

In April of that year, Olsen was found unfit to stand trial and after a two-month wait for a bed at McFarland Mental Health Center in Springfield, he was transferred there; in July, the state said Olsen was restored to mental fitness.

But while he was still there in late August, the state Department of Human Services expressed concerns to McLean County Associate Judge David Butler. Olsen had been in jail or hospitalized since Feb. 2, 2013, on five misdemeanor offenses, the state pointed out to Butler.

"We are concerned he has been incarcerated longer that he would have been had he stood trial and received the maximum sentence for the crimes that is he alleged to have committed," wrote Donald Henke, a McFarland clinical director. The lengthy detention violated state rules, he said.

In October, Olsen was again deemed unfit to stand trial in another misdemeanor trespassing case.

On Friday, Olsen sat quietly as lawyers set dates and discussed the ongoing efforts to locate a place for him that wasn't the jail. The selection of Feb. 13 as a trial date drew a brief response.

"Friday the 13th. I don't think that's good," he said.

Olsen has a Feb. 9 court date to review his case.


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