Phoenix, AZ

Homeless and Mentally Ill in Downtown Phoenix

Adrienne K.
Mattias Milos on Unsplash

In 2005 I had one of my worst schizoaffective episodes I’ve ever had. I attempted to receive treatment when I first noticed symptoms occurring. I contacted my mental health clinic seeking help. They decided to help me by taking me to the streets of downtown Phoenix, Arizona to stay in a homeless shelter.

Mind you I had a home of my own. I had a husband and daughter. Part of the issues though, was I couldn’t be around my husband as I was paranoid, delusional and manic. I believed my husband was going to hurt me. When I have these symptoms, my husband doesn’t know how to deal with me, at least didn’t back then, he’s gotten much better since 2005. The way he handled it back then was by getting angry and trying to control the situation, however when I’m sick like that you can’t control the situation as I am so out of control. My emotions, my thoughts, my actions are totally and completely out of control. I yell, I cry, I don’t sleep. One minute I’m happy as can be the next I’m a blubbering mess.

Back to the mental health clinic — So, after a few home visits and some clinic visits my case manager decided the best course of action was to take me to the shelters in the downtown area. I would spend the day at a mental health shelter, the positive about this was they served food there and I ate breakfast and lunch there and the food was good, really good, and you could eat as much as you’d like.

Some people stayed all day and night there, it depended on their situation and insurance. I stayed until around 4 or 5 in the afternoon then after that I would go to a shelter called the Overflow or occasionally CASS- Central Arizona Shelter Services.

The Overflow kept people that were unable to go to CASS because of overcrowding. It was an old decrepit building that was about 4000 square feet. Half of the building housed females, the other half men. We slept on yoga mats and had itchy fire blankets to cover ourselves with. Attached to the building was a concrete yard that was surrounded by a chain link fence. Some of us would hang out there, sitting on plastic milk crates, and talk and smoke until lights went out at 10. We had to get up at 5 am the next morning. At this time, I would go back to the shelter and have breakfast and lunch.

I had it easier than many of the people who were homeless since I was able to go back to the mental health shelter, get a shower, eat and socialize. Most people at Overflow stayed on the streets all day begging for food or money, not knowing where their next meal would come from.

During my time on the streets of Phoenix I was paranoid, manic, delusional, and suicidal. Once I even took a half bottle of Klonopin. I wanted help. I wanted to be off the streets, I wanted to feel better inside. When I did this a friend, I made at the shelter kept an eye on me making sure I didn’t die. We rode on the city bus all day to keep cool and keep from getting arrested. We did this until I was more coherent and able to go back to the shelter. I truly appreciate my friend for watching out for me that day.

I ended up getting involved with a man while homeless. At this point in time, I stopped going to the mental health shelter and strictly stayed at the Overflow. During the day we’d walk the streets, go to parks, sit at bus stops, ride the bus across town and eat at soup kitchens. When night came, we’d sleep at the shelters, until one night it was pouring down raining and both shelters were filled to capacity. I lost my shit because I knew I was going to have to sleep outside in a shitty part of town in the pouring down rain. I called my mom, begging for her to come get me, I was hysterical, but she refused to come get me. My boyfriend and I pulled our money together, all pennies, and we stayed at a cheap dirty hotel that was $40 a night. The room was under construction, and it was filthy, but we were out of the rain, and we slept soundly.

I had some money in savings that we accessed, and my boyfriend was working a part-time job, so we began staying at this hotel nightly. One night though, I had enough. I wanted to go back home, I wanted my life back, I was going to call my husband in hopes he would come get me and get me the help I truly needed. When I tried to leave the hotel room, to call my husband, Tim wouldn’t let me leave. He blocked the door and when I tried to get around him to open it, he got physical, grabbing me and pushing me away. We began fighting. When I got free, I got on a chair by a window that was about 5–6 feet off the ground opened it and tried to get out of it, Tim began pulling me back in, so I screamed for help and one of the managers helped me get out. I then called my husband who came to get me as quickly as he could.

That was the last night, of my approximately 120 days of homelessness. My husband was able to get me into an apartment living program where I received treatment and got on the medication I needed to help with the paranoia, delusions, and mania.

My husband, daughter and I are still together — have been for 20 years, and we are stronger than ever. I still have some struggles with the schizoaffective, but I receive ongoing treatment and care, and know what to do and who to contact if it gets too bad.

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Hello there! I'm Adrienne and I mostly write about mental health and addiction. My knowledge of these two subjects comes from my own personal experience with having schizoaffective disorder as well as struggles and triumphs with addiction/alcoholism. It is my hopes to help educate and normalize discussions around these two taboo subjects, as well as provide hope and encouragement to those who struggle with these issues. Thank you so much for reading my articles, it means the world to me. : )

Phoenix, AZ

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