Tag Archives: mental illness

Day 33: 54.5 Hours Remaining

I only have two more days at the shelter and I’m beginning to get sad about it. Fourteen and a half hours left to go. Tuesday will be my last day. The remaining forty hours were ordered to be done with Caltrans.

A man in a jersey walked onto the property today and started saying “six dollars for 10.” It took me a minute to realize that he had EBT cards in his hands. Every store on skid row takes EBT. Even the liquor stores and fast food restaurants. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize an addict can sell his or her EBT cards for less than their value and use the cash to buy dope. They get free food in the shelters anyway, why not?

I’m not criticizing anything about the way that works, just making an observation. Anyone who loves an addict knows there’s no way to “solve” the madness of addiction until the addict chooses to get off the ride. Even the State of California is an enabler.

“I’m sorry sir. When you show up dirty you gots ta leave. That’s how it is at the VOA. You need to go back to the VA and get yourself enrolled in a substance abuse program. You can’t come back here until some time’s gone by and you are really ready to accept help.” Eric hung up the phone and pressed his fingers to his temple, fatigued.

“Ma’am, I done told you. We don’t sign papers if you don’t got a case worker here.” Mark was getting frustrated. It was then tenth time he told the same woman the exact same thing. I put my hand on his back, trying to add some strength as I saw his cheek twinge with hidden anger. “No. No, ma’am. Thas not what I said. I said you have to go to The Midnight Mission. Not just any mission.” Twinge. Twinge. Twinge.

A staff member stood at the gate and stared across the street at the mounted police who had stopped to talk with someone who was sitting beneath a blanket that was hung up between two shopping carts filled with belongings. I wasn’t sure why they chose to stop there, randomly. The entire street is lined with people just like the homeless man they were talking to. Tents and blankets and shopping carts as far as the eye could see.

“They can sniff dope,” the staff worker mumbled.

“Who can?”

“The horses. They have em trained.”

A client walked by and proclaimed to nobody in particular, “I need to get right with God. This shit is off the hook.”

Later in the day, somebody asked Wendy what she was doing for Thanksgiving.

“Working. We don’t get holidays off.”

“You don’t?” I asked.

“No. The homeless don’t take breaks on us, y’know. The staff in the office, they get holidays off. But us here on the outside, we don’t. We get anotha day off later with pay.”

The clients’ madness is constant. It never stops. I don’t know about horses being able to smell dope, but I do know that these staff members have atypical skills. Anyone who works in a service profession knows how hard it is to care when you are never thanked. Not only are these caregivers never thanked by the homeless addicts and mentally ill people they serve, they are also never noticed. Their work is never acknowledged and goes completely unrecorded in history. There are very few people who would serve knowing they would never be rewarded in this lifetime. Thanksgiving is coming up. I’m going to thank them.


Day 31: 70 Hours Remaining

Something is in the air. My accupuncturist friend says it’s “crazy season.” Last night my children would not stop jumping like jack in the boxes no matter how much I put my thumb on their heads.

This morning a woman walked onto the courtyard like a queen from her carriage. She began shouting at anyone and nothing.

“I want a fucking bed!” came roaring at one staff member.

“I want my drugs!” was hurled at another.

Heads were gunna roll.

Most everyone on skid row is a ticking bomb. It’s just a matter of time before the last straw breaks. It’s hard to tell what came first, the mental illness or the addiction. Sometimes I feel that if I stay here long enough I’d join right into the song, crooning like an alleycat at midnight when the other ferals start their party.

Even when I’m hiding in the laundry room I know when something is going down. I can hear the shouting over the whir of the washing mashines and the mechanical clanking of the dryers. The woman’s timer had hit zero.

It always starts with one staff member yelling, trying to talk sense into someone with no reference for why gravity doesn’t point upward. And then like leopards creeping in from the corners of the courtyard, more staff members approach tactically, as they slip on gloves. The gloves are for protection in case they have to physically move the person who cracked. Cracked people have sharp edges. Some of those edges are uncapped needles and some are bleeding cuts and oozing sores.

Fortunately, this woman left without much prompting, shouting expletives over her shoulders as she did so.

A couple hours later a woman carried a complaint of mistreatment to Greg, the supervisor. She was cracking slowly, not all at once like the lady before her. Eventually her rage reached a climactic crescendo and she accused Greg of hitting her. I stood, shocked, wondering how Greg would handle this wrinkle in reality.

He reached accross the counter for his phone.

“Imma call the police right now and report it for you.” And he held the phone up for her to see as he dialed 9-1-1.

“Thas right. I want to press charges.” She seemed delighted that he had saved her a walk to the pay phone.

“Yes, ma’am, I’d like to report myself for allegedly hitting a woman here at XXX San Julian Street. She’s standing right here and wants to press charges.” He pulled the phone away from his ear for a moment to double check with the client, “You said you want to press charges, right?”

“Yes’m.” She had her arms crossed now and was starting to look a little uncomfortable.

“Yes, ok, yes. We will wait right here for you. You say you’ll have a patrol car here in about ten minutes?” And then to the client, “they can have a couple officers here in about 10 minutes so you can give then yo information and ask them to arrest me.”

“They won’t arrest you…” she said, “I don’t wanna cause you no trouble…”

“Well, you want to press charges, right?”

“Oh… are they really coming here? You ain’t really talking to them are you?”

“Yes. Sho am. Here.” And with that, Greg put his phone to the client’s ear.

“Hello? Who is this? Oh. No. No ma’am. I don’t wanna press no charges. I don’t wanna cause no trouble. No need to send the officers here to see me. But I just want you to know, the man DID hit me.”

It was a moment of amazing clarity for me. Love in the face of fear. Boldness in the face of intimidation. Truth and light in the face of lies and insanity. He called her on her claims and diffused the bomb.

These people are pros. Yet, despite this fact, they are rarely treated like the experts they are. All of them but one or two are black. I am by far the only white person in the client area and I am the lowest thing on the totem pole that’s out there. Heck, I’m not even ON the totem pole! I do the work nobody else wants to do. I’m there to learn a lesson and it’s not supposed to be fun.

But for some strange reason, whenever someone comes onto the grounds from another non-profit– a social worker, a medical provider, a community educator– they look at me when addressing staff and asking for direction. They assume that I’m in charge because I’m white.

Racism is alive and well, even here, even now.


Day 24: 113.5 Hours Remaining

Just because I have kept a positive attitude during this process does not mean it is PLEASANT. Nothing angers me more than people justifying their position behind my prosecution or in supporting those who slandered me during the investigation and the case by saying that this blog is proof that this has been good for me. This process will ultimately turn out for the good of everyone involved, because my God loves me and is sovereign. But that does not in and of itself provide absolution for every evil thing that was done and said during this entire scapegoating. Job’s friends were all wrong.

It is only by a supernatural power that I am keeping it together. My faith has grown deeper than it has ever been in my life because I KNOW where I would be right now if God were not even more real than the judge, jury and prosecutor. I can feel the tormenting sea of insanity brewing just beneath my breast. I can hear the voices of rage screaming murderous hatred just behind my ears. I can smell the smoke of pending devastation within my fists. I am a crazy woman restrained.

I have begged God for justice. I have searched in my wake for a victim and found none. I have scanned the horizon for a place of refuge and find it only in His arms alone. I have bottled a million tears and slept without a home or a bed for over a year. I have felt the branding of being a burden to everyone I meet. I have watched my children shoulder the pain of adult cares. I have felt the sting of a child support check that doesn’t even fill my gas tank after six months of nothing. I have swallowed the tyranny of the cubicle with a wide open mouth.

And in the end I can only say that for the life of the baby girl that was saved, I would still do it all exactly the same way if I had to do it all over again. Because I could not live with her death. Because her life is worth this pain. Because the struggle of midwifery and the exposing of the inconsistencies in our midwifery law is worth this pain. Because the cause of parental rights is worth this pain.

Today I met a woman who put her husband in the hospital and got half the hours I got. She also got a misdemeanor.

Helicopters hovered overhead and we all wondered if they were awaiting a verdict in the Michael Jackson case. Everyone was discussing it. I felt nothing but a pit in my stomach, remembering the day the jury deliberated less than two hours for me.

I told one of the staff that I might be out of a place to live soon. He’s been hearing more about my situation lately and today he got really angry and told me that he feels so bad for what is happening to me and my kids. My response was to panic internally. Having a skid row shelter staff worker tell me it’s bad, is like an oncologist tell you that you your tumor is bigger than he’s ever seen. It removes any doubt about whether or not you are going to make it.

To get out of the slump I was in I wrote a note to encourage Eric because I imagine the case workers don’t get thanked very much. As I was writing it, Charlie was telling me how much he loves his job at the shelter. How he can’t imagine doing anything else. How you gotta love what you do so you do it well.

I hope that Eric loves his work like that and I told him so in the note. Then I paused, looked up so I could choke back tears, and said, “I loved what I did before I came here. Really loved it. Could work 70 or 80 hours in a week and it didn’t even feel like work…”

I found my purpose, my calling, in midwifery. God told me to go there and do it. And I did it. To the very best of my ability. But like King David, God told me this temple will not be built by me. That answer is not GOOD for me, but it is God’s goodness that holds me as He says it. He holds me while I sob and pour out the futility of all those years of study and devotion and selfless hours of not being paid. All that time and care given for no reason but just to love families with all of my heart. My heart wide open.

Chastening does not have to be for a reason. Sometimes it is the simple hand of the potter cutting off a piece of the clay that is in the way from it becoming the perfect piece it’s intended to be. Sometime the potter crushes the whole thing on the wheel and starts over agian.  

God has some purpose beyond what I can see right now. The struggle of chastisement is not, in itself, the best thing God has planned for me. The end result is the best thing. Just as Christ’s death on the cross was not for His own good, but for the goal of the prize God had ordained on the other side.

Resurrection. That faith is what keeps this phoenix alive in the fire. A faith of weaker substance would have rendered me suicidal.

Job 19:25-27


Day 20: 140.5 Hours Remaining

The days are growing colder at the shelter. Not a day goes by that I’m not asked if there are any donations of clothing or blankets. I’m surprised that donations are far and few between. With as much as I hear about homelessness away from skid row, I would have assumed they were being buried in hand me downs and leftovers.

I remember taking an entire truck full of donations to Tijuana when I was a kid. I assumed we give more to those within our borders than without. Then again, I think most people assume that if you’re homeless in the United States it must be your fault. Bad choices. Drug Addiction. Alcohol.

But I’m finding that’s not always the case. Along with the deaf folks I wrote about in a previous post, there are others with disabilities.

The neurologically disabled and mentally ill are everywhere.

Today there was a woman who paced the courtyard, Bible in hand. She looked like what I would expect a Berkeley or UCLA student to look like. Young, dread locks, neatly placed clothing, eating a spring roll. She was praying outloud, with her eyes toward heaven. “I will pray whatever you speak in my ear. I pray now for the death of Michelle Obama. He will give me what I ask for.” She was in another world. She wasn’t here. Her body was a shell and her diseased mind propelled it as she spoke to an unseen force.

Something was in the air today.

Another man: tall, heavy, bearded. He stopped in front of the baggage line as if someone alerted him. His hands suddenly stretched skyward as far as they would go. He began to shout while staring upward into the rafters, “Do NOT stare into the eyes. Do NOT stare into the eyes. Do NOT stare into the eyes…” driven like a psychotic break. Like a record on skip.

And then the man who stopped me while I carried laundry to ask, “Why did I stop doing pushups?”

“I don’t know, sir. Why did you stop?” I’ve learned to just answer directly.

And he walked away as if he hadn’t heard me, only to ask the next person he came across the same question. He repeated it to every person he passed in the courtyard. At least twenty times.

I got a little chuckle out of the elderly man who spoke to someone invisible. He was seat with his legs crossed, having a good conversation about the benefits of education with the unseen other party to his left. I could imagine he was speaking with his own teenage or college age son, “You will need to study law. Now, I know that it’s hard for your ego to swallow, but you need to know that you don’t yet know everything. Law is a noble profession and it’ll suit you just fine. Yes. Yes. I know, it’ll cost a pretty penny. Sho will. We’ll come up with that somehow. Don’t you pay no mind to that.”

I pass them throughout the day and think nothing of it now. They mean no threat and most of them don’t even know they have the ability to startle. Every once in a while I sit down, gaze distantly at the roar of the mass of them, and wonder what their mothers had planned for their lives. Surely not this.

And I think of my own autistic daughter. What will become of her when I am gone?