Tag Archive | Homelessness

Homelessness, Addiction, Mental Illness & Recovery

Gaining Insight

I have an alcoholic friend who has relapsed. He was turned away from a long-term recovery and job training program at a local homeless shelter because he takes Paxil. The shelter told him that they didn’t have the facilities to treat people with mental health issues.

You would think that someone who is regularly and voluntarily taking their anti-anxiety medication would be a prime candidate for a program like this. He’s clearly a person who’s trying to get his shit together.

I do understand where the shelter is coming from though. Where do they draw the line on the intake of homeless men with mental health issues? But anxiety? I bet that co-exists with every addiction! Fortunately, my friend has another recovery resource, but most aren’t that lucky. Most would be forced to go back on the street and continue to feed their illness.

More than 124,000 – or one-fifth – of the 610,000 homeless people across the USA suffer from a severe mental illness, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They’re gripped by schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression — all manageable with the right medication and counseling but debilitating if left untreated. In the absence of such care, their plight costs the federal government millions of dollars a year in housing and services and prolongs their disorders.” – USA Today, http://usat.ly/14quZv7

I would guess that the majority of homeless individuals are dealing with some kind of mental health issue. I know that the majority of addicts are. For most, the addiction itself, no matter the substance, is self-medication. I know mine was.

Fortunately, my bottom wasn’t a low one; and I didn’t drink myself out of a home or a job. (Yet…) After five years of sobriety I realized that my recovery wasn’t going to be just about working a program, but also about dealing with some underlying physical, chemical issues that fed my feelings of insecurity, anxiety and depression. I am blessed to have the money and insurance to pay for a therapist and a psychiatrist and meds. I can’t begin to tell you how much those things have transformed my life for the better. But the majority of people in this country, not only the homeless, don’t have affordable access to mental health care.

As intertwined as the issues of homelessness, addiction and mental health are, and as much as they cost the US, we have to find a way to create an integrated solution that is available and accessible for all citizens of the United States.

‘We learned that you could either sustain people in homelessness for $35,000 to $150,000 a year, or you could literally end their homelessness for $13,000 to $25,000 a year,’ he said.” – PolitiFact, http://bit.ly/1Bci5Oq

In this country where we continue to proclaim ourselves “exceptional,” everyone who wants a second-chance – a new beginning – deserves one. But you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if nobody will help you get a pair of boots.

No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

– John Donne

A Little More About Colt 45

Our minister, Dr. Beth LaRocca-Pitts, wrote about Mike today in St. Mark’s weekly newsletter. (See my original post.)

A Death in the Family
This past Sunday I shared with the congregation that one of our brothers had died. His body was discovered on our handicapped ramp where he often slept. There was nothing unusual about last Saturday night for him, as far as we can tell. When he and the others who sleep on the ramp went to sleep they said he seemed the same as ever. Only this time in the morning when everyone got up, he didn’t.

I shared his name incorrectly at 9am because at that time I wasn’t sure who it was who had died. By 11:15 it was clear that it was Red, also known as Mike, though most of us knew him as Colt 45 Man. It was cold Saturday night and Mike got his nickname because he drank one or two Colt 45’s pretty much every day and he had had a few on Saturday. Typically he would come by the handicapped ramp each day and drink one or two and toss the cans in the shrubbery. Often he would sleep on the ramp during the day, or in the doorway of the chapel where the sun is warm in the afternoon. Over the years that we have known him, Deana would invite him to come inside when it was cold. He would always decline. He was never rude or hostile to anyone. He always referred to you as “sir” or “ma’am” and he often wore camo. This made me wonder if he was a veteran but I have not confirmed whether he was or not.

When Torrence, another of our brothers who has been sleeping on the grounds of the church for years, said to me Monday “I hope his family is able to claim him”, I was moved to call the coroner and find out what they could tell me about this. I was told that his full name was Michael Sweeten. He had two brothers and a sister and a son. His sister in law told the coroner her husband had not seen him in years and gave the name of the other brother to see if he wanted to claim Mike’s body. I told the coroner that if no one in his family of origin came forth to claim him, we would claim him and see to his burial.

“The poor you will have with you always” said Jesus. Mike was with us for many years and would accept only the most simple form of hospitality from us – a private place to sleep, the sun on our steps in the afternoon. He wouldn’t come any farther inside the door. Perhaps he felt he was not worthy. We know how that feels. That’s why we will be the ones to claim him if others will not and I will tell Torrence his family came for him.

After the publication of the printed remarks I learned that Mike’s family has claimed his body. He will be buried in Hapeville in the next few days. God is good.

Yours as always,


Pour One Out for Colt 45


St. Mark is one of the few churches along Peachtree Street here in Atlanta that still allows homeless folks to sleep on its steps. Even that statement sounds callous, but it’s a degree better than those churches that have posted “No Loitering” signs out front to keep these needy men and women away from true sanctuary. You know, like Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Fuck you who are poor. Get the hell off my lawn and kiss every inch of my black ass.”

A group of four or five guys regularly sleep on our handicap ramp out front of St. Mark. I jog past on my early Saturday runs and see them out there wrapped up in their blankets and using all their possessions as pillows. It makes me happy and sad. Happy that they feel safe and welcome there in the shadow of our big red front doors, but sad that there are people who have no shelter from the elements, or who, for some reason, choose not to take advantage of the shelter that’s available.

Yesterday, when Beth, our pastor, stood up to take prayer requests, she began by saying she had a very sad announcement. One of those ramp guys, Mike, had passed away in the night out there on that concrete ramp. A man, a child of God created in God’s image, died on a cold Sunday morning on the steps of a god damned church in the United States of America.

Beth said Mike was better known around the church and on the streets as “Colt 45,” because every night he’d drink a can of Colt 45, crush the empty and toss it in the bushes in front of the church. I’ve seen those cans. I might have served Mike some food at Breakfast Club, or poured him a cup of coffee. Chances are good I passed him walking down the street at some point and we probably smiled and said hi. But I can’t remember who he is.

But I remember those cans. Colt 45. The Bull! Those cans were a sign. A sign that a human being had been there and was visible and real and tangible in this world. That human being was a man named Mike.

So tonight I’ll buy a can of Colt 45 and pour it out for Mike. And then I’m going to throw the empty down next to one of those “No Loitering” signs at the church up the street. And they can kiss every inch of my black ass.

Rest in peace, Mike. I’m sorry we couldn’t do better by you.

Updated 11/19/14

More about Mike