We lost one last week. He's out there alone. And we are broken hearted.
Across the country homelessness is usually a transient phase, with most individuals and families finding housing within weeks to months. But that's not the case for many who, either due to difficult circumstances or poor choices--often it's a bewildering combination of both--remain on the streets for years, maybe even a lifetime.
It is the chronically homeless that we at Bethel come to know best. It only makes sense: the longer someone is impoverished or homeless the longer they need our services and the better we get to know them. Every case is different but many of the chronically homeless suffer profound mental or physical illness.
For several years, Jacob (not his real name) has been coming to Bethel's homeless book club, spiritual support group and support services. He suffers from schizophrenia and refuses treatment. He lives alone on the streets. Nobody knows where he sleeps. And like his nighttime whereabouts, his past is also hidden. The stories he tells are laced with obvious delusions. He chews paper. He rants at people we can't see. Until recently, he was always nice to those around him. He'd show up and help if you asked and sometimes if you didn't. He'd stack chairs or interrupt arguments or pick up the trash of others (he often left his own trash behind, but that's another matter). Recently, however, he had an unprecedented and aggressive outburst and we had we had to ask him to leave.
Once again we are confronted with our limitations. We can offer treatment to the mentally ill. We can report delusional and aggressive persons to the authorities. But without the proper backing of community resources we can't force people into treatment or into housing even if it would clearly be beneficial to both the individual and the community. We live in a culture where what is seen as 'individual rights' often trumps wisdom, allowing a mentally ill person to refuse treatment even when it is the paranoia of the illness itself that makes the person reluctant to accept treatment. So the illness gets to chose to perpetuate itself...
It's painful to imagine Jacob out on the streets alone without the family he came to know here at Bethel.
Thank you for sending Jacob to be with us. Thank you for the love we shared and the lessons we learned in caring for him together. Thank you for loving him. We pray for your blessing upon him, that you watch over him. Please, open his heart and mind to receive the help that is available to him. Help him commit to improving his mental health so that we may welcome him here at Bethel once again with open arms. Amen.
We finished Angels & Demons, an amazing thrill! Thanks to all of you who took turns reading aloud. That was fun.
C.E. took third place in the Street Pulse poetry contest. Well done, C.E.!
Mark, Thomas (welcome back!), Tyrone, Linda, Angel, Bo, Alice, Phyllis, C.E., Suzanne and Turbo.
We meet at 8AM next Tuesday, May 14, in the Fireside Gallery to watch the movie Angels & Demons.