Dwight’s Story. He is 60 years old.
I was a juvenile delinquent and I never knew my biological dad. All I know is my dad was Polish, but my mother could not pronounce or spell his name. My stepfather was a roofer. Whenever he was off, he was at the bars, so I believe that I basically raised myself. My mother was always in and out of mental institutions, and as I remember we moved around a lot when I was a child. My mother also had two sisters that were always in and out of the mental hospitals, and a brother that was discharged from the Army for a nervous condition.
I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in behavioral sciences in 1973. I was using drugs and partying in college—any drug that was available. After college I continued to use and booze and that caused me to become homeless. I have been homeless twice. The first time I was homeless was when I was 21. I was using drugs and alcohol and I was going through psychotic episodes. I was in Nevada and I caught a bus to California. I got married in 1982, and I was married for 23 years. I had another anxiety attack about a year and a half after my wife filed for a divorce. I was so devastated that I tried to commit suicide by taking a bunch of pills.
I ended up in a crisis unit in Florida. I went from 235 pounds down to 110 pounds. I was dehydrated and malnourished. I was admitted in a three month inpatient locked unit. When I got out I had a friend invite me to Illinois for a job. I was working one day and while I was waiting for some documents, I went into the bathroom and took a hit of crack and kept the company van for the weekend.
My drugs of choice were alcohol and crack cocaine. I was a binge drinker. Using crack in tandem with my mental illness caused me to become homeless for a second time at the age of 59. Whether or not I had money, I would hang out at a friend’s house waiting for the next high. Once I started using crack cocaine, nothing else mattered, not even the alcohol. Most times we would hang out all night and sleep all day, whenever we did sleep.
I came to realize that I kept having psychotic episodes and I kept getting evicted. I was a functional/dysfunctional type of guy. I mean, I was barely making it in life. It got to the point where I could not take care of my basic human needs. I wasn’t showering, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t even take out the trash. At one point I was sleeping in truck stop restrooms. I have even slept in a garbage dumpster.
I can remember that my children were so mad at me because I tried to commit suicide. Since my wife has passed, my children have not talked to me much. I was suffering from anxiety attacks so severe that I couldn’t even go to my own son’s wedding. I even tried to go to a religious community in California; they called us “Jesus Freaks.” I moved around to a lot of different places as an adult.
In my last house—a doublewide trailer—I remember that the lights went out. I was months behind in lot fees. It was hot, I wasn’t taking out the trash, and there was no food. There were flies flying around the house, and so finally my ex-wife and children left me. She passed a year and a half later in Pennsylvania. My friend told me two weeks after that because they didn’t know what I would do. I was once again devastated.
Life is tough. Living with a psychotic parent is hell. I think that I escaped my childhood by going away to college. I wanted to stay and take care of my mom, but I had to run away. After college and after all of my psychotic episodes, there was a certain homeless shelter that saved me. Now I have hope. I’m starting to feel like I’m free. People can become homeless for different reasons. Not all people are homeless because they use drugs or drink. Mental illnesses can and does cause homelessness. I’m glad that there are people that are willing to help the homeless. I’m glad that people are willing to provide a safety net for people. Although there are some people that don’t mind being homeless, I believe that most want to be independent.
Finally, I believe that people are good natured, because more often than not people that you meet on the street are willing to help others.
This story originally appeared in Facing Homelessness in Fort Wayne, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Lutheran Social Services and the Office of the Mayor in Fort Wayne, Indiana.