word salad world

Chronicles of Pathways Drop-In Center


Bonnie and Patty were playing rummy when I arrived at Pathways. Bonnie ate a plate of tuna casserole and played cards at the same time. Patty’s boyfriend Hank told Patty what cards she had. Patty’s visually impaired. Bonnie held her cards close to her.

A man shrouded by a white sheet was sleeping on three of the dining room chairs. Another man slept with a comforter in an armchair. With the TV room gone, this is the only way Pathways’ homeless clients can rest. Normally they would rest in the TV room.

“Call the landlord and have him thrown out,” a man across from me said into Patty’s cell phone. Patty shares the phone a lot. I wondered if they’re taking advantage of her.

“Didn’t I tell you he takes advantage of everyone? After he screwed me, he moved on to you,” Bonnie told him as soon as he hung up and gave the phone back to Patty.

They finished the game. Bonnie won.

“What’s going on?” I asked Bonnie.

“He took advantage of me. He wanted to move in with me. I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ I gave him a buck to pay for a night at the Coalition and bought him cigarettes. Then he moved on to John here. He’s a manipulator. I want nothing to do with him.”

They left the table to go outside to smoke. Everyone smokes here. It’s very common among seriously mentally ill people.

A multiracial man with a wispy voice asked, “Can I read a National Geographic?”

“Sure.” He had a stoma. He could barely talk. “Do you want to make a collage?” I asked. He showed me his right hand. His right hand fingers curled into his wrist. I wondered what happened to him. I was too afraid to ask.

A man whose name I forgot – a woman named Maria’s’s husband – gave me a note.

“She’s been banned for 90 days for hate speech. She was only repeating what someone else said,” he told me.

The note said, “I need to talk to you” then her name and number. I’m not calling. Maria is psychotic half the time I see her. When I ran a beading workshop at Pathways eight years ago she told a woman she was going to hell because the woman mentioned that she was Catholic. She was banned for that then so I have doubts about her husband’s story. But a ban has serious consequences. Many seriously mentally ill members aren’t welcome at other soup kitchens because their disruptive behavior wore out their welcome. Their SSI runs out by the second week of the month and they resort to panhandling and getting food out of dumpsters. During the 1980s when I was involved with the punk scene dumpster diving became hip, but we would look thru dumpsters in the back of office supply stores for cassettes and notebooks and stuff like that. We never went to grocery or restaurant dumpsters. We were wannabes. For banned members, that’s their only recourse.

Bonnie, Patty and Hank returned from their smoke break. Patty asked, “Why aren’t you eating?”

“I ate before coming here so someone can have my plate.”

“We’ll take it and split it between us.”

Patty and I walked up to the kitchen. The cook said as soon as she got done making the PBJs that members take with them when they leave for the day, she would give Patty my plate.

“Where do you live?” Patty asked as we returned to the dining room.

“East Orlando.”

“Hank and I live out there. Can we have a ride?”

“My car is packed full w/ stuff for the Goodwill,” I lied.

“What do you have?”

“Mostly clothes, some housewares.”

“What size are the clothes?”

“The stuff in there is tens and twelve’s’. They won’t fit you.”

I said this because Sam is at most a medium.

“What’s your size? I’ve kept all my clothes as I lost weight.”

“Medium or sometimes small top. I wear a 7 to 7 ½ shoe. Size 7 pants.”

“I only have misses sizes. Do you know what size that would be?”

“Maybe a zero.”

No way. I figured she’d fit a 6 or an 8. She’s petit like me though so I knew I had jeans that would fit her.

“I have some clothes at home that might fit you. I’ll bring them in next week.”

“Do you have any shoes?”

“I wear the same size as you. I’ll look and see,” I promised.

“Can I have a ruler and white cardboard instead of a neon one? She grabbed a fine tip black marker and started tracing around the ruler at 35 degree angles. Then she rotated the poster board 90 degrees and started doing the same thing.

“Don’t you think this is cool, baby?” she asked Hank. Hank was absorbed shuffling the cards and didn’t answer.

She took colored pencils out and used teal between where she first traced the ruler. She grabbed red next.

Bonnie emptied her whole purse on the table. “I’m looking for my lighter,” she explained. She found it. It had an enameled brass holder.

“My nephew tried to steal this. He said he found it on the driveway but I knew it was in my purse. My lighter was missing when I found it on the driveway, but I had my case.”  She held it out for me to see. “I’ve had this 20 years. I don’t like people who lie and steal. I work. I’m not on the trail selling myself. I work.”

“Where do you work?” I asked.

“The paper. Saturday Nights.”

I gave Patty a sample of conditioner I got in Sunday’s paper.

“My boss gave me 20 of these to take home,” Bonnie said.

“I think I’ll finish this next week. I’m hungry,” Patty told me. I had hoped that she would finish it. It was an original idea. It shows how creative Patty is. We walked over to the kitchen and fetched Patty’s meal.

The man that slept on the dining room chairs got up and wandered off. He left his sheet and backpack. It’s amazing how much trust there is between Pathways’ clients. I took that as my cue to leave for the day.





Damage from TV room fire.

Damage from TV room fire.

Pathways had a fire. The TV room was completely destroyed. The TV room is in a second building apart from the main building where meals are served. The main building had minimal damage, but the wreckage from the TV room had to be cleared before Pathways could reopen. The main building also needed electrical and plumbing work. This happened a month ago. I have about 4 weeks of notes for posts, but didn’t want to bother Pathways’ founder, Nelson, with more work to do. Nelson approves each post. That’s the deal since I’m writing about his organization. That’s why I haven’t posted in over a month. The investigation of the source of the fire is still pending.

I’ve felt completely impotent the since this happened. I gave Nelson the number of the general contractor who worked on my house last year. He probably does residential work only, but he might know someone who does commercial work. I also suggested that one of the board members should call the Orlando Sentinel. That’s it. I don’t function well enough to do more. The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando has raised thousands of dollars to help pay the insurance deductible and funds for Pathways. Pathways’ website has a feature that allows credit card donations that will go towards rebuilding the TV room.

I worried about where Pathways’ members were going to get a meal. I don’t think there’s a soup kitchen nearby, but the members would know, not me. The TV room had lots of overstuffed couches where Pathways’ homeless members could rest during the day. Most of them won’t sleep in shelters because they think the shelters are too dangerous and are afraid their possessions will get stolen.

I told everyone I know in my AA meetings about the fire and the need for contractors. Most said, “They’ll be okay. They have insurance.” I missed the opportunity to tell them that there are a lot of expenses that insurance won’t pay for – like the staff’s salaries while Pathways was closed, restocking the freezers, cleaning up the smoke damage in the main building. I didn’t ask for donations because an AA meeting isn’t the place to do that. I didn’t ask my bipolar support group for donations either because it wasn’t appropriate. They don’t have anything to give anyway.

Luckily, Pathways didn’t get looted, which is a testament of how highly its members value this organization. Pathways reopened a month after the fire. On the day they reopened they celebrated with cake and ice cream.

I was so upset about the fire I kept worrying about Pathways’ members. Pathways’ closing for a month had serious consequences for the people who go there. They’re out in the heat all day; they lost all the services Pathways provides including a meal. Now that the TV room bathroom can’t be used they can’t offer showers so the members still won’t be able to attend to personal hygiene. I have to ask the folks in my workshop what they did while Pathways was closed. These are resourceful people. They’re not stupid. They don’t always have the best judgment, but they’re resourceful. They have to be to survive.

Nelson said to start posting again. I’m giving a presentation at the Orlando Museum of Art on November 7th about the healing power of art. I’ve been putting a lot of my efforts towards that so I’ve been too busy to write for this blog. I’m afraid of public speaking, but I feel it’s important for me to talk about my art workshop at Pathways so I can raise awareness about this wonderful organization and perhaps inspire a few people to donate. I hope I do a good job.


Denise's collage

Denise’s collage

When I first got to Pathways’ dining room a man eating corn and a turkey and cheese sub said, “Hey beautiful.”

I ignored him as I spread markers, magazines, construction paper and 11” x 14” neon poster board on the table. He said nothing else and after he finished his sub he left.

Denise saw the pink neon poster board and asked, “What can I do with this?”

“Make a collage.” I showed her one of my collages as an example. I knew that the neon poster board would encourage someone to make a collage as soon as I saw it at Walmart. Her son was watching Sponge Bob on one of Pathways’ computers a few feet away. Her collage featured a furry plush animal head on the body of a male model.

A woman approximately six feet tall asked as she briefly thumbed through an In Style magazine, “Can you bring candy next time?”

“I’ll try,” I answered.

Bonnie was outside smoking. I knew she wasn’t going to participate that week. The sun was out for the first time in a week. A lot of people sat on the patio talking and smoking, but even with the sun outside the room was dark.

“What happened to the lights?” I asked out loud to no one in particular.

Fred turned on the lights. I felt stupid.

Denise looked through a National Geographic for more images.

A slim black man leaned over the table and asked, “What’s going on? I mean for real.”

“I bring art supplies so people can color, collage or even just hang out. If you want to read a magazine I would prefer you read it at the table. When people take them away they disappear. I don’t have a lot of magazines so I need them.”

“Reading is important,” he said. “My wife reads a lot. I used to but I just don’t have time these days.”

A chubby blond man looked for something to read on the book shelf. This wasn’t the first time someone had looked through the books. There are few books and I made a note to buy books at Goodwill for them to read. I’ll look for horror, romance and mysteries.

A woman on the board of directors handing out mail said, “I’m so glad you’re doing this. I did it in rehab. It makes you think and find out who you really are.”

A man who came around Pathways when I worked there eight years ago told me, “My wife got banned 90 days for hate speech and she was only repeating what someone else said.” This is the woman who colored a white fabric tote bag I brought in about a month ago. “She was misunderstood,” her husband went on. I doubted his explanation. I remembered a time when I was running a beading class when I worked for Pathways she told a woman who asked for help making a rosary that Catholics go to hell.

Denise’s son started making a collage. She was showing him how. He chose an orange board. Denise found animal pictures for him in a National Geographic. He glued a picture of a baby and some wild animals. His collage also featured a flower heart and a pinwheel. “He’s 5 years old,” Denise once told me. He added more pictures from Harper’s Bazaar magazine.

I stood a glue stick upright so it wouldn’t roll off the table.

A woman in a wheelchair with her left forearm and left calf missing asked Fred for a cigarette. He gave her one. I think there’s a rule against it, but people there do it all the time. Many mentally ill people smoke. There’s a theory that it helps them think more clearly. It’s also part of the reason why seriously mentally ill people die an average of 25 years earlier than the general population. Psychiatric wards always provide nicotine patches to patients who smoke.

An owl faced man asked, “What’s your name?”


“Mitch. Are you married?”

“Yup.” He walked away without saying anything else.

On my way home as I merged onto the 408 expressway it occurred to me that if Denise is homeless like many of Pathways’ members her son won’t be able to go to school because she’ll have no address to place her son in a school district. I texted Nelson, Pathways’ founder, as soon as I got home and asked him about Denise’s living situation. He texted me back saying that she resides in one of Pathways’ seven apartments. The apartments are available for clean and sober mentally ill individuals who are homeless and on Social Security or working. Their rent is a third of what SSI is, which averages to about $230 a month. The apartments are well maintained. Denise’s son is lucky because of Pathways. He gets to go to school.


I got to Pathways at about 11:20 am. They open at 11:00 am the people there were still eating and everyone was very subdued. It was the end of the month and that’s the hardest time for them because by then they’ve run out of their Social Security money. A bald man of about 30 was talking on the client phone trying to arrange care for himself and a way he could get a buck to pay for one night at the Coalition for the Homeless’ shelter. He had just been released from prison and was trying to get food stamps and emergency assistance. I didn’t think to tell him that Catholic Charities might give him money. I wish I had thought of it. He was trying to get SSI too, I think, but that takes months. I wasn’t about to ask him questions just to satisfy my curiosity. He urgently needed help. Without emergency assistance he’ll probably roam the streets at night and have to crash at Pathways during the day in the TV room or try the labor pool to get the money to stay at the coalition.

In Florida, where I live, there are no services for released inmates. They are often no shows at community mental health clinics. According to a Washington state study they are perceived as violent – even though very few of them are – many mental health practitioners consider them too much of a liability to take on as clients. Even if they do get services from community mental health they often run out of medication before they can get an appointment. There’s a report to a Florida state senator about how to improve access to services such as getting on Social Security, food stamps and Medicaid, but nothing came of it. The Florida Department of Corrections, Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) and county mental health providers don’t communicate with one another about how to provide inmates services when they get out so they don’t reoffend or wind up in a hospital. That guy at Pathways that day had to arrange all of these services himself. This guy was lucid. I wonder how the sicker ones can do this for themselves. There’s a lot out there about jails and prisons being the new asylums but not about aftercare once they are released. In Florida they get a months’ worth of medication but at my county’s mental health provider it’s often 90 days before they can get in to get care. The Bazelon Center, which is an organization specializing in legal matters about mental illness, issued a brief about what’s needed for aftercare. They suggest screening for mental illness upon entry to jail or prison, suspending rather than terminating benefits while mentally ill inmates are incarcerated, providing specialized parole supervision and helping prisoners apply for benefits before their release. With all the states facing budget shortfalls it’s unlikely these offenders are going to get these services. Frontline made a documentary about the system in Ohio. The inmates there get 2 weeks’ worth of medication. At least the guy at Pathways was persistent. I should’ve suggested Catholic Charities for emergency financial aid, but he was on the phone the whole time and I didn’t want to interrupt him. I should have handed him a note about it while he was on hold. I haven’t seen him since.


Sandy's collage

I left my house at 12 pm and got to Pathways at about 12:30. Lots of people were there and about six or seven were sitting at or standing around the dining room table where my art workshop takes place. I don’t recall what was on the menu that day and I forgot to look when I signed in. I couldn’t smell anything.  I didn’t see anyone eating. I told the group around the table I had to leave at 2 pm, even though I wasn’t sure if they were hanging out waiting for me or just socializing.

Since I’ve been trying to entice the participants at my workshop to make collages, I showed Bonnie and Vonda a finished one I made the day before and another one I had started that I intended to finish there.

“I just had a med adjustment. I can’t concentrate for more than fifteen minutes at a time,” Bonnie told me. She seemed much calmer that day than the last time I saw her. She took out a picture of a butterfly she had started coloring the prior week.

“How can I tell which color I used last week?” she asked.

“I’ll get a scrap of paper and you can make marks on it until you see the right color.” I ripped out a piece of 9 x 12 drawing paper – hardly scrap, but it was all I had. I made a mental note to bring blank printer paper the next time.

I didn’t want to get glue on the table so I tore out another piece of drawing paper and used it to glue the back side of the images before placing them where I wanted them to go on the poster board I preferred for the collages. It took me about 10 minutes to finish my collage. I did it in order to show everyone that it is just as easy and fun as coloring. The reason I try to get people to make collages is because it’s more expressive and much more compelling to look at.

Hank chose interesting colors asymmetrically placed on the skull picture he colored. Vonda worked on the same image with a fine marker and, like me and most people, placed her colors symmetrically. It’s the image everyone likes most. Bonnie announced twenty minutes after she started, “I can’t concentrate no more.” She didn’t get much farther along than the week before, but given that she just had a medication adjustment it was understandable that she couldn’t sustain her attention. She went outside to smoke a cigarette and came back to socialize at the table about 10 minutes later. I told her that I was hoping Lisa, a woman I knew when I worked at Pathways eight years ago, would show up.

About 5 minutes later Lisa came in with a bag from a pharmacy. “I had to get my meds,” she told me. I showed her my collages.

“That’s nice, but I want to color,” she said.

She pulled aside several images from the coloring folder I bring with me every week – more than she had time to color in the hour that was left. I gave her colored pencils held together with a rubber band and whispered in her ear, “Take this home with you.” Lisa likes images with fine details that take hours to color. That’s why I gave her the pencils. She has a garage apartment and can finish them there. She had asked me to bring in more geometric and paisley images a few weeks before, which I did. I shouldn’t be playing favorites, but Lisa is my favorite person there. She’s kind and enthusiastic. I used to help her get clothing in her size when I worked at Pathways. She’s always been my favorite, but by giving stuff to her the others might demand the same from me, so I do it discretely.

Bonnie got up while Vonda was taking a shower and told me “Vonda can use my readers but make sure I get them back.”

“That’s very kind of you, but I don’t want to be responsible for your glasses,” I told her. “I’ll get an old pair out of my car. Keep an eye on all of this Lisa, will you?” Lisa nodded. I got the readers out of my car and when I came back I put them on top of Vonda’s skull picture. Everyone loves that skull picture with the wings. I hate it. I like their second favorite best. It’s a skull that has flowers and swirling leaves all over it.

A slender, mousy young woman who appeared to be in her twenties joined us.

“What is this?” she asked me.

“It’s an art workshop and I come here and run it every Tuesday afternoon. You can draw, color or make a collage.” I showed her the collage I had just finished. She grabbed two pieces of 10 x 18 poster board. I decided to give her the pseudonym “Sandy.”

While she cut images out of fashion magazines and experimented where to put them before gluing she said, “I was arrested for no reason at a bus stop and after I got out of jail a few hours later my brother said they were following me. I’ve been like this ever since. This picture looks like the black Barbie doll I had when I was seven but it got stolen. She had molded hair and missing finger tips on both hands. This place isn’t right. They arrested me for no reason at the bus stop. I don’t know why they arrested me. I wasn’t doing nothing. They didn’t even charge me. My mom tells me I must’ve been doing something wrong, but I wasn’t.”

I believed her. I don’t know what she was doing, but she must have appeared suspicious to the police because she was afraid of them and it got their attention. Mentally ill people – especially the homeless ones – get arrested for nothing all the time and Sandy’s fear, isolation and paranoia follow her everywhere, even to a safe place like Pathways. She kept saying, “Something’s not right here. I should go soon.” It’s like she’s living in a Kafka novel.

Had Sandy lived during the 1950s she would’ve been hauled off to an asylum for the rest of her life, not for a few hours in jail, depending on how she behaved at the time at the bus stop.

To be fair, a lot of law enforcement people have helped Pathways and Pathways has helped educate Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) officers – officers specially trained to handle mentally ill people. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Orange County Corrections have also made generous donations.

There were seven or eight people at the table talking amongst themselves and I was too busy listening to and watching Sandy to catch what the others were saying. Clearly, being arrested and not knowing why must have been traumatic for her. She kept repeating “I don’t know what I did wrong.” She cut and experimented with the placement of the images then glued them onto the poster board. I wondered if she’d done collage before. She used large images for her first collage and various sized images for her second. She was reluctant to allow me to take pictures of her collages, but I told her I would protect her identity. It’s understandable since she thought she was being followed. She didn’t speak to anyone else at the table that day. I haven’t seen her since.

In and Out

Patty's card

Patty’s card

I arrived at Pathways Drop-In Center at 11:30 am that Tuesday and it was packed. I brought fruit my best friend Joan had donated. They scarfed it up. The kitchen staff had to limit them to one piece each.
I didn’t bother spreading magazines in the middle of Pathways’ dining room table because participants in my art workshop prefer to color or draw rather than make the collages I had once hoped that they would make. Bonnie sat down across from me, leafed through the coloring images and chose one with a butterfly resting on a chrysanthemum.
“I brought fruit.”
Bonnie’s brows lifted in surprise. “Where?”
“On the kitchen counter. Hurry, a lot of people are eating it.”
She leaped up and scrambled for the kitchen. She returned, finishing off a banana.
“My middle daughter has 75 days clean, but she’s back with her boyfriend, who still uses. I keep telling her to stay away from him. She’ll go right back out. She says, ‘No I won’t. Don’t worry. I got this.’ She’s lying to herself. It’s just like it was with my husbands. Women like the bad boys. The good ones never matter. I smoke a joint and have a few beers with my best friend every now and then, but I don’t drink like I used to.” Her speech blasted me like machine gun fire because she spoke so quickly and loudly. “I say the serenity prayer several times a day,” she told me.
If you recall from my May 14th post, Bonnie told me she had been sober two years and that she tried what in AA speak is called “marijuana maintenance” – continuing to smoke pot but not drinking – and that it didn’t work for her. I don’t think she lied to me on our previous encounter. She was fooling herself, but she was probably having an episode and was self-medicating. Twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous use the phrase “went back out” instead of the clinical term “relapse” and that’s what I think happened to Bonnie. I was genuinely worried about her; she had previously mentioned that she took lithium and trazadone and drinking while taking psychotropic medications can kill you. I’ve seen it happen plenty of times.
A girl of about twenty, Patty, kept kissing a gray haired man of about fifty who sat at the head of the table. But poverty can make people look much older than they really are. Patty’s fiancé had a shadow of a beard – more like several days’ growth of gray facial hair. Patty’s hair is a short pixie cut and she has a round face. She looks about normal weight, but her clothes are baggy so it’s hard to tell. Patty has glasses but doesn’t wear them. When I first saw Patty, she was shaking her head and swept her arms around in front of her. Tardive Dyskinesia (a Parkinson’s like movement disorder caused by some antipsychotics), I thought. As soon as she sat down at the table where we were working she said, “I’m visually impaired.” She looked at the construction paper she was cutting inches from her face. She felt around for glue and I put it in her hand. She cut hearts out of different colors of construction paper, saying “This is easy for me. Everyone knows how to cut out a heart.” She took off a silver peridot ring and set it on top of her baseball cap. “It’s my birthstone. Hank gave it to me. We’re engaged.”
“Congratulations,” I said. “Do you mind if I feature a picture of the card you’re making for him on my blog?” I found her idea for making a card for her fiancé clever. I have no doubt about her intelligence and resourcefulness.
“I don’t mind.”
Back to Bonnie, who had been talking the whole time to whoever would listen, except stepping outside for ten minute cigarette breaks. When she returned from her second one, she addressed me again. “The second of my four husbands is in prison for life because of robbery. He’s dying. The others died from drug overdoses. But I was always closest to my second one. We’re still in touch. You know, my mother wasn’t very open with me about men, but I’ve always been open with my kids.” She resumed coloring, but went on. “I live at my sister’s house with my nephew. She’s selling the house and she’s moved away, but lets me stay there rent free. As soon as I get my check I’m heading for Daytona, where my kids are. I’ve been turned down for SSDI three times, so the more they deny me, the more they have to give me when I win.”
Where is she getting money to drink? I wished I had asked.
“Most of the people here don’t take their meds. They should be required to take them in order to come here,” she told me.
“I don’t think Pathways can do that. Besides, they’d lose so many members,” I said. And Pathways shouldn’t pressure anyone to take their medication and they don’t. As long as members don’t come in high or drunk and follow the rules they stay. It would not only unethical for Pathways to do that I think it would be illegal. Bonnie told me about her daughter’s denial yet she can’t see her own. As far as her SSDI goes she may be so impaired that she can’t provide adequate documentation like some of the other members of Pathways. I didn’t ask if she had a lawyer. In spite of her active substance abuse and bipolar disorder she seems more functional than most of the other members, which may be working against her, but it’s impossible for me to know.
At the end of my stay, Bonnie said, “I’ll finish this next week. I need a cigarette.” Hank, seated at the head of the table the whole time and who barely spoke, said, “That’s how it is. In and out.”

Sweat Dreams

They served ravioli again with green beans and white bread. The meals at Pathways are nutritionally complete and the ravioli smelled enticing. It was so slow at Pathways Drop-In Center that day that I didn’t see anyone on the shower sign in sheet when I signed in to do my weekly art workshop. Maybe I looked at the wrong list because usually the list is full. Maybe most of Pathways’ homeless members needed sleep that day more than a shower.
Dee, a woman who came to Pathways when I worked there 7 years ago, greeted me warmly. Dee has long grey hair that almost reaches her buttocks. I wondered if she had a hair brush because it looked tangled.
“Jody. You were manager here a long time ago. What happened to you?”
I was surprised she remembered my name.
“I left to go back to school,” I told her.
“Graduate school.”
“What’d you major in?”
“Social work, but I left half-way through. It was just too much for me so I dropped out.”
“I went out west while you were gone. Orlando is the best place to be if you’re on the street. My husband and I used to sleep at a 24 hour MacDonald’s over on John Young [Parkway] but it’s better to sleep here. I get about five hours. While we were out west we were in a shelter with a bunch of sick people and my husband got pneumonia. He already has COPD. So we came back after he got out of the hospital.”
“At least it’s warm in Florida,” I said
“Yeah, but Orlando is better than Tampa because of this place. They don’t have a place like here. I sleep here during the day and drink coffee at night at MacDonald’s. Coffee’s cheap there. Not like Denny’s.”
“I know,” I said, “I usually order water when I go there.”
“Yeah. It’s like 2 bucks. That’s too much.” She wondered off towards the pool table. I wondered why she wasn’t sleeping. I wanted to ask her where her husband was, but was afraid to ask. Something bad might have happened to him and I didn’t want to upset her. She only had a small black purse with her. I surmised her husband was still with her and was sleeping with their possessions in the TV room, where a lot of Pathways’ homeless members crash. The TV room is cool and dark and the whole room has couches to sleep on while the TV drones at a low volume. But other members go in and out of the TV room to use the bathroom because the other bathroom has a shower that many members use to attend to personal hygiene.
Most people need about 8 or 9 hours of sleep a night. Sleeping only 5 hours a day, during the day while your circadian rhythm is telling you to stay awake must take a terrible toll on Dee and her husband’s mental and physical health. I have bipolar disorder and if I get less than 5 hours of sleep at night three nights in a row I become manic and when I become manic I lose even more sleep and end up getting sleep deprivation psychosis. I have a house and I get to sleep at night, not during the day like Dee and the other homeless people at Pathways who sleep in Pathways’ TV room after they eat. It makes their mental health and behavioral problems much, much worse. They’re not sleeping at night outside, in shelters or in assisted living facilities because it’s too dangerous and it’s noisy. Section 8 housing has a long waiting list.
I found a YouTube video detailing the lack of sleep among the homeless. Even homeless people who don’t have a mental illness experience grave physical and mental consequences from lack of sufficient sleep. They may experience sleep deprivation psychosis. The homeless people in this video also stated they on average get only five hours of sleep and sleep during the day because it’s too dangerous to sleep at night.
According to a House the Homeless article interrogators of war captives’ use sleep deprivation as a form of torture. Rats deprived of sleep end up dying much sooner than rats that get sleep. Many studies have confirmed that the homeless – especially homeless mentally ill people – have a much lower life span.
A letter by a former homeless person to the editor to the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative details why homeless people hate shelters and would rather live on the street. Many members of Pathways have told me the same thing over the years. It’s noisy and dangerous.
Dee is absolutely right; Pathways is a safe haven even if members can only get about 5 hours of sleep. At least they can rest without having to be hypervigilant about being arrested, robbed or assaulted.