Homeless in the City
I have a homeless uncle. He has been homeless for over a decade. Consequently, he also suffers from mental illness, namely schizophrenia. For as long as I could remember, he has always suffered from this illness. When we were kids, he was always around and my grandmother did all she could to take the best care of her. But when she died many moons ago, he had no where to go. He bounced from shelter to shelter for years.
This man survived the streets. He was the streets. He is s good natured and kind person. Not violent at all. His schizophrenia makes him very paranoid and in many ways, I believe his schizophrenia kept him alive all of this time.
No matter where he was, he was never alone. You see, schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that effects the way you think, feel and act. A common sign is hearing voices and a peculiar or nonsensical way of speaking or writing. (c/o Mental Health America) My uncle displayed this behavior, among other things, for as long as I could remember. When I was younger, I remember he sincerely believed that he was in a relationship with Mary J. Blige. No one could tell him any different. To this day, he doesn't know why they broke up and he believes he is a rapper.
He seems to piece together portions of the past along with imaginary occurrences. To the naked eye, he just seems to be a homeless crazy man, but I resent and rebuke that thought - because it is degrading and because I know better.
After years of roaming the streets in DC, he wandered into a city hospital. My family was notified and my sister and I sprung into action. I included a bit of this journey on my SnapChat, but not enough to tell the entire story. My sister and I went to the ER and sat with him, talked with him and finally convinced him to sign documents to be admitted to the psychiatric ward in that hospital. This action alone indicated several things to me. 1 - he was finally tired of being on the streets and 2 - he was ready for some help.
My sister has been a champion for my uncle since the beginning of time. Anytime she is out in DC she is always looking to see find him. Anytime she finds him, she makes sure he has whatever it is he needed. He has never said he wants help, wants to go home or anything like that. He always just ensures her that she is okay and he goes on his way. We knew forcing him in either direction could potentially mean losing him forever. He was in no danger and he was not a danger to anyone, so we let him be, as best we could.
The hardest part in this was knowing that there was better for him and wanting better for him. We wanted him home, at one of our homes. Neither of us were truly in a position to take him in, we didn't really know what to do - we had such a small scope of mental illness on that level and the benefits that he is entitled to. It seemed that his decision to remain on the streets was more painful for us to bear than for him; until this day.
He stayed in the ward for about a week and a half. We learned there that he has had health insurance the entire time and through his health insurance, he is entitled to quite a bit of benefits. His case worker was able to find him housing. We got the call late on a Monday evening that he would be discharged midday on the next day. Again, the champion in his life and myself sprung into action.
He is, and has always been so happy to see us. I was honored to be a part of this transition. We met him at the housing and sat in on the intake meeting, asking pertinent questions and ensuring that he fully understood each document he signed. We were able to get him settled in his new room and make sure he had all of the necessary items that he required - including a Snickers bar!
This is the beginning of a very long journey but I am so honored to be a part of this. You don't realize how much impact you have on very simple situations until you cannot impact at all. Being away for four years has really taught me to humble myself and the true meaning of family. I love my little sister and the woman she is becoming. It is because of her that my uncle is now receiving the care that he needs. It is because of her that my uncle has a bed and a pillow under his head and a door he can lock; a warm shower and place to share with new friends to be made. He is safe.
(Photo Cred: Washington Post)
Love & Light, Fam!