My friend, Dorothy, will celebrate her 63rd birthday mid-October.
Dorothy anticipates her birthday with great gusto; the birthday will be celebrated; and anticipation of next year’s birthday begins anew. There is guilelessness about Dorothy that easily masks her years of torment and confusion, living with severe mental illness.
Dorothy experienced incarceration when a nurturing environment would have better met her needs.
Being housed in state institutions further crippled and stifled Dorothy’s fragile psyche. Yet, my friend demonstrates time and again a fierce resilience and a profound sense of grace.
I met Dorothy a dozen years ago, when she was homeless and I was a fledgling Bread & Roses staff member. Dorothy’s mental illness led to her being evicted.
Mental health intervention, housing and a consistent cadre of loving community friends held Dorothy cocooned and housed until two months ago, when once again, Dorothy found herself evicted and struggling on the streets.
Dorothy is only one of many in our community who deserve our loving commitment of safety and nurturing. Yet we fail again and again.
We somehow assume stupidly that individuals living in the throes of mental illness are receiving assured requisite assistance. Fact remains many do not! I am responsible for Dorothy’s current episode of homelessness, as are you.
We are repeatedly reminded of the statistics: About 25 percent of the homeless population has serious mental illness, including chronic depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and addictions; while only 6 percent of Americans are severely mentally ill.
As well, we know that with appropriate investment in permanent supportive housing, chronic homelessness for people with mental illness can be ended within the next decade. This would result in savings of billions of dollars for state and communities by relieving the burden currently placed on emergency rooms, various social services and the criminal justice system.
Knowing all this and still as community we allow too many mentally ill individuals to be chronically street dependent or campers in the neighboring woods.
May we be challenged and inspired by T.S. Eliot’s words:
“‘Do I dare?’ and ‘Do I dare?’… Do I dare to disturb the universe? In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”
Do I dare, do you dare, do we dare to raise our voices and demand that our brothers and sisters living with mental illness be treated with dignity and compassion, assured appropriate supportive housing and community commitment so they need not suffer the excruciating trauma of homelessness?
Let’s not let another season pass by without daring to disturb the universe.
If we make the effort, we can ensure that individuals are not aimlessly wandering the streets of our towns, nor purposelessly riding the public buses for lack of place to be, or living in substandard conditions in woods or shanties.
Love is an action.
Our purpose as people of diverse faiths is to love – not simply “talk the talk, but walk the walk.” Now is “the minute which will reverse,” permitting mentally ill individuals to be freed of the unnecessary trauma of homelessness.
Dorothy has no current address, so instead of sending her a birthday wish, write your local municipal, county, state and federal representatives and dare to raise the awareness level of this issue and challenge the current funding allocations.
Love is an action.Selena Kilmoyer is on the Board of Bread & Roses and Interfaith Works. Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.