At roughly 4am twice a week, a deeply disturbed individual hops the fence from the street into the parking lot attached to my apartment building. Like most people who enter illegally he is after South Central Gold…plastic bottles and aluminum cans. What sets this man apart is his maniac loud ranting to himself. Alternating from “FUCK YOU MOTHER FUCKER” and an endless string of “FUCK FUCK FUCK” the man perched in the dumpster waged an epic psychological battle against himself.
Approximately, 20-25% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (National Resource and Training Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness, 2003). I believe him to be among this many. And as I peered outside through the slates of my blinds as this man proceeded to mine…I wondered what was the best way to handle the situation. Of course, I could call the police as he was obviously and almost manically disturbing the “peace”. But, I wondered “Is this the best option?” Although loud and bombastic, this individual wasn’t harming anyone…but himself. The violence that he displayed in the pitch, tone, the general sharpness in the way he cursed himself with such disdain…prevented me from doing anything other than laying back down and listening.
As I continued to hear his litany punctuatated by the sounds of bouncing beer cans and dasani water bottles. I found myself horribly and inexorably led back to the common mythologies about homelessness.
Did he choose to live a life “off the grid”? Is this a chosen life? Perhaps he is unhelpable?
But, even as these thoughts chase around my mind I remember the privilege some have…that I have…to mental health treatment. It is projected that those who receive comprehensive community mental health treatment and stay in treatment, remain safely housed, will have an incarceration and homeless rate of less than 2% (CalPsych).
Adding another layer, African-Americans make up 50% of the homeless population (Institute for the Study of Homelessness & Poverty at the Weingart Center). My dumpster man was indeed African-American. Reading that statistic and most of the statistics I’ve included in this post…makes me ashamed that I feel so caught in a web of indifference, futility, and utter inability to connect with an “undesirable”. Yes, I know he could have been dangerous…to himself and others…But, I just wish that my first sensation of distaste could have been tempered with initial humility to his obvious anguish and tribulations.