In 2009, I spent a summer working at a mental health crisis center. The stories I heard there blur together in my memory. The teenage girl with two young children and a drug habit, living on her mother's couch; the high school dropout with a boyfriend in jail, living with any friend who'd take her in for the night; the single mom, evicted from yet another apartment, bringing her preteen with her to the shelter. These are the cases I remember, flashbulbs in a long stream of hard luck stories.
All of them were suffering from some form of mental disorder. And all of them were, by one definition or another, homeless. Most often they were suicidal, depressed to the point where they were unable to imagine another day. Many were bipolar, finding their way to us after migrating across states and spending their savings in fits of mania. The most difficult ones were schizophrenic -- afraid of shadows, confused about reality, sent to us by shelters ill-equipped to serve their most pressing needs.

Huntsville, Alabama, where I lived and worked, isn't a big or a rough city. Its population is somewhere around 200,000; it's warm, both in temperature and temperament. Rent is low and land is cheap. But still this stream of people wandered into our office, telling the same story. Variations on a theme: I missed my appointments. I ran out of meds. I can't get out of bed. I don't remember yesterday. I lost my job. I lost my house. I don't know where to go. I want to die.

 Boston is different. It's harder: it's big; it's cold; it's expensive. And there are resources available for the homeless just like in Huntsville. But do we focus on the physical needs of the population, and ignore their mental and spiritual needs? Do we define homelessness too narrowly, forgetting that the runaway living on her friend's couch is as homeless as the panhandler under the overpass? Do we look for the cause of people's problems, rather than just treating the symptoms?  

These are the questions this project is going to strive to answer. I'm going to tell the stories of the homeless in Boston. I'll write about their their mental health, their depressions and anxieties, the things they struggle with -- and how those things affect their hunt for a stable life. You'll see their faces, and hear their voices. I'll talk to the people who are trying to help them, both out on the streets and at the top of the organizations devoted to their cause.  

Follow along. Join the conversation. Tell me what you'd like to know, who you'd like to hear from.  Tell your stories, if you have them.  Keep reading.  

-Alisa

 





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