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Thursday, January 17 , 2019, 1:35 pm | Overcast with Haze 60º


Ken Williams: Untreated Mental Illness Holds Tight Grip on Homeless Man

A few years back a hard winter storm blew in. Days before, a gentle-hearted donor had bought me a great deal of winter survival gear to give out to the homeless. Having given out most but not all before the day’s long rain settled in, I drove and walked the streets looking for the vulnerable homeless in the downpour.

I’ll call him “Stan.” I had met him years before at a shelter. He told me later that after our talk he walked to the beach and threw his dope pipe into the ocean. He soon relapsed.

But it was a start of his journey to being reasonably clean and sober. He was even able to fight the tormentors of his mental disease to a standstill. He got off the streets and did reasonably well until …

Early morning. Rain poured down in sloshing buckets. State Street was deserted except for the homeless. Stan was propped up against the side of a building. White T-shirt. White socks. Jeans. No hat. No jacket. No shoes.

“Soaked to the bones” was more than a phrase. His wet, shoulder-length brown hair lay heavily on his thin shoulders. The intense stare of his paranoid disease radiated hostility. I approached cautiously. His mental disease stilled conversation, as did my sadness for his current condition. Only “no” was allowed in reply to my offer — then pleading for him to accompany me to a shelter. Offers of a hat, jacket and sweatshirt received the same response. Leaving, I told him I would look him up later.

I saw him a few more times that morning. Leaning against another building. Walking slowly up and down State. Dragging his water-soaked socks in his wake.

Just after noon. The rains coming harder. I found him again sitting against a building. His head turned upwards. Rain pounded his face. Same requests as before, same offers from me. Sadly, same response. I told him I would walk back to my car, get a raincoat and bring it to him. Hostile stare produced by a wounded mind radiated out from him. Returning, I laid the jacket and tennis shoes before him.

Late afternoon. Driving up State to return to Social Services, Stan walks slowly — rain dogging his every step. He wears the new rain jacket. His satiated white socks half off, dragging. A glass: Half full? Or half empty?

This poem is dedicated to Stan and all who suffer cruelly from untreated mental illness.

Hell Alone Will I Face?
(An Odyssey of a mentally ill homeless man)

The rain is of two minds.
Fluffy white clouds weeping soft tears.
Dark siege-towers, rising menacingly,
hurling torrents of watery terror.

My mind is ravaged —
hungry vultures of mind illness eats.
Your heart ravaged —
victim of fear-begotten-hate.

Steel tipped psychosis-claws,
tears my mind to shreds.
Your heart frozen clueless,
your conscience torn to shreds.

I should be cold,
but illness of the mind masks.
Your heart grows colder,
self-delusions not up to task.

Always this way?
once toys and shoes under tree were mine.
No shoes now,
watery-bloated socks now mine.

People walk pass jacketed,
sit I tee shirt is all.
Frightened glances so jaded,
a frightful thing I am to all.

It became this way when?
When did I become this way?
A frozen heart became you when?
This tragic play came which way?

Hunger stirs me not,
yet torturous voices hurt me.
Spirituality inclusive, am I not?
Guilt splits your heart, hurt because of me.

A mind illness is my ravenous beast,
conscious-less by fear, your cross.
Indifference a subtle beast,
aloneness, we each, forbidden to cross.

You are scared,
I am sorry,
I am scared,
You are sorry.

This storm front moves in,
cold rain lashes my face.
Will warmth of heart sneak in?
or my hell alone will I face?

Ken Williams has been a social worker for the homeless for the past 30 years, and is the author of China White, Shattered Dreams: A Story of the Streets and his first nonfiction book, There Must Be Honor. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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