Sunday, April 11, 2004

That Could be Me

I read this article by Joan Mazzolini in today's Metro section of the Plain Dealer:

Overcrowding Plagues Shelter"
" From almost the day it opened in February 2000, the shelter on Lakeside Avenue has been too crowded.

The slumping economy and resulting increase in homelessness have made the situation worse in the last two years.

In recent months, an increasing number of men released from Ohio prisons started showing up for beds.

The shelter has bunk beds for 400 men, but it's not unusual to find 600 there some nights. Virtually every room is crammed. Men crowd the halls and negotiate narrow aisles between banks of beds, which are stacked close together."

One evening in July, several years ago, I received a call from a phone booth outside 2100 Lakeside Avenue.
"Ms. Matthews?"
I recognized the voice.
"I can't sleep."
"Where are you?"
"There's too many people."
"Are you at The Spot?"
"No, I had to leave. They sent me to 2100...I'm gonna have to hit somebody. They're saying things to me. There's a lot of spirits flying around here."
"Okay, wait for me outside...I'll be there in about 15 minutes."

The caller was a former student of mine. He developed severe paranoid schizophrenia during his senior year of high school, and at the age of 18, joined the ranks of the homeless.
Friends and colleagues accuse me of being a magnet for the truly troubled. I cannot turn away from someone who needs help.
This young man was on a waiting list for a housing and therapy program for young adults with schizophrenia. But until a space opened up, he was living in shelters, not taking medication, and rapidly decompensating.
That evening, he slept on my couch, and the next morning we saw a doctor at the Bishop Cosgrove Center for Mental Health . That afternoon he was admitted to St. Vincent Charity Hospital for the help he so desperately needed.

The ranks of the homeless are filled with the victims of this most cruel of illnesses. The diseases of the mind wreak havoc on a persons most vital organ, but since the rest of the body exhibits no other signs of weakness or pain, many of these victims are shunned rather than treated. They are mocked and they are feared, becoming societies pariahs.

"but for the grace of God"... that young man could be my son, that woman, my daughter.

The disease does not discriminate.

How could I ever turn my back?
That could be me.

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