Helping a loved one who is experiencing a severe mental illness, especially someone who may not realize they are sick, is one of the greatest gifts you can give. For some, it may mean the difference between life and tragedy. ~ Treatment Advocacy Center
There are so many dangers when a person is mentally ill and homeless, but one of the worst is to be exposed to the elements during all seasons. I have not heard anything or seen anything written about this danger, but it is very real.
During my homelessness, one of the most wretched experiences was the cold, wet windy days of winter. Never having proper shoes, I would be exposed to slush, biting cold, and some days numbness in my feet. I was lucky to pretty much always have a warm coat, but shoes were tricky for me. Not many were comfortable for me so I resorted to wearing comfortable sandals in the winter and summer. You can imagine walking through a winter storm with only sandals on my feet; yet that is what I did. I remember being afraid I would get frostbite, but then my voices would tell me I would be alright. And I continued living homeless.
To cope with the very bad weather of winter, I would utilize the Morristown Library on many a day of rain or snow or sleet. This is the same library that was sued by another homeless person. I was never made to feel as an outcast. I would sit through a storm; or if I could find a quiet place, I would close my eyes for a time – not sleep but rest. No one gave me a hard time. I was never asked to leave, and I was afforded a few hours of warmth and safety.
After realizing the winter in Morristown would be very difficult, I gravitated to New York where I knew I could find shelter in terminals; and this is primarily where I spent the winter. I remember one of the reasons I decided to seek shelter in a long-term care facility was because I knew I could not face another winter living the way I was.
To close, I will say I never did get frostbite. However, my feet remain very sensitive; and I have to be very careful about shoes I choose. It is many years after homelessness, and my body is healthy. I am very thankful to a higher power for seeing me through that time and allowing me to live a good life in mental health.
(a person in recovery)
Reprinted with permission of Valerie Fox Click here to email Valerie Fox.
For more about the role of libraries as shelter for homeless individuals with mental illness, see Unintended Shelters.
Karen Easter, Mental Health Advocate for Assisted Outpatient Treatment