Silent Voices: People with Mental Disorders on the Street

Silent Voices: People with Mental Disorders on the Street

by Robert L Okin
Silent Voices: People with Mental Disorders on the Street

Silent Voices: People with Mental Disorders on the Street

by Robert L Okin


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We avert our eyes when we meet them on the street: homeless mentally ill people with their hand-scrawled signs, shopping carts, and cardboard boxes. Because of the fear and revulsion they arouse in us, or the guilty relief we feel at our own relative good fortune, we fail to see—no, insistently deny—any human connection with them.

Still, we're curious: How do these people end up on the street and how do they survive the stress and privations of such a life? How do they brace themselves against the elements day after day? How do they cope with their frightening symptoms, their drug addictions, the paradoxical mix of extreme danger and mind-numbing boredom that characterizes their existence? What combination of biological vulnerabilities, traumatic childhoods, drugs, mental disorders, and financial devastation brought them down? And how do some manage, against all odds, to climb out of this desperate situation?

Practicing psychiatrist, professor, and former commissioner of mental health Robert Okin spent two years on the street, meeting and photographing homeless individuals with mental illness to find answers to these questions. Gifted with a unique ability to connect with the people he met, Okin masterfully brings them to life through stories and images that are intimate and gritty. These accounts are not only intrinsically interesting, they help us reflect on why these troubled souls living on the periphery of society should matter to the rest of us: Because we share their humanity. Had things gone differently in our lives, their plight could have been our own.

Moreover, how often have we looked back in history at instances of great human suffering and asked with outrage how they could have been allowed to happen? We are living in such a moment today. The phenomenon of homelessness is taking place in our time, on our streets, on our watch.

But this is a book about hope, not just grief and despair. It challenges us to face the situation and do something about it, rather than simply look away.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780996077705
Publisher: Golden Pine Press
Publication date: 10/10/2014
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Robert L. Okin, MD, was born in the Bronx, New York. He attended college and medical school at the University of Chicago, and after a psychiatric residency at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, he spent two years at the National Institute of Mental Health, where he became interested in community psychiatry. Dr. Okin lives in Northern California and has two grown children, Laura and Justin, and a young stepson, Oliver.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

My Approach to This Project 4

My Experience on the Street 6

A Brief History of the Homeless Mentally Ill 13

Paths to Becoming Mentally Ill and Homeless 18

Barely Getting By 24

Against All Odds 29

Breaking the Cycle of Social Stigma 30

Images and Stories 34

"I used to live in a home. Now I live in a cardboard box." (Mary) 37

"The angels of suffering are screeching at me!" David 38

"Is that all you could get me?" Daniel 42

"He needs to see I've done my penance." Barbara 46

The Chess Game 54

Man Examining His Sock 56

"The world ended in 1967, and there's no place to go. (Man with His Bicycle) 60

Woman with Her Sleeping Bag Alexandra 62

"I'm gonna die sooner or later. I don't really care when. I'm too sad." Tatanka Luta 64

"I was four years on death row." (Man with His Dog) 68

"My two daughters were blown to bits by suicide bombers in Iraq." Heidi 70

"Well, I don't know what rock bottom is, if this isn't it. I have nothing left!" Ryan 76

"Sometimes I get tired of having a roof over my head." Linda 80

I've traded my pain medication away for crack." Gregg 87

I'm sure my mom didn't want to give me away." (Man with His Daffy Tie) 90

"I fell from the Empire state Building to the curb." Bridgett 92

"One day you're going to kill me!" James 104

"I'm immune to pain in my body, but when someone hurts my feeling, it makes me feel real sad and I cry." Erradyse 106

"If you have no teeth, it's proof that you've fucked up real bad-that you must be nothing but a fuck-up!" Jeff 112

"I don't sleep. I don't eat." Michael 120

"My mother must have known what my father was doing even before he raped me." Rebecca 122

I'm goin' to sell these shoes for $10,000." (The Shoe Salesman) 130

"Too many people are dead here." (Woman from Honolulu) 134

"After my first kill, it got to be nothing." Walter 136

"I sleep where the frog people live." Rhoda 142

"The Gang: Max, Sabrina, and Jed 144

"I'm not proud of some of the shit I did." Max 148

"Now I'm here, and I'm not quite sure where I'm going." Sabrina 148

"I came to San Francisco to die." Jed 152

"Someone broke into my hotel room and stole my eye." Rose 154

"It's hard having a relationship when you're living on the street." Donna 158

"The Devil is here!" Maria 164

"Whenever I live inside, I start thinking about what I've lost." Jonathan 168

Man with a Cane Jessie 170

"My mama traded my bicycle for a six-pack of booze." Lee 174

"Life on the streets isn't easy, but it's not desperately hard." 178

"The psych meds made me itch so bad I couldn't stop scratching myself." 180

"Everyone says how tough it is to be homeless, but I'm good at it." Vince 182

"I was like a wolf. I'd only come out at night." Don 194

"Some days, I wake up not knowing who I am." George 196

"I won't touch the dead branches of your filth." Klauss 198

"Then in a matter of 2001, one of these little helicopters came down and shot me in the butt with a beangun." Robert 200

Conclusion 203

Appendix A What is Needed 207

Appendix B History of the Homeless Mentally Ill 213

Acknowledgments 229

About the Author 231

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