Chaotic Life Experience Can Lead to Death
The experience of Ken with the fatal heroin overdose demonstrates that chaos in one’s life during homelessness can easily lead to accidental or deliberate death. (We do not know for sure if Ken intentionally took his own life.)
During the chaotic years leading up to my actual homelessness, when I was experiencing relationship and job instability, I came close to dying on three occasions. First, I overdosed on aspirin. (This can kill you, if you take enough of them.) Then, late at night, during a long commute home from work, I dozed off and drove off the road into a parked car, suffering painful injuries but surviving. Finally, while working at a prison and living in a rooming house, I used a hot plate as a heater, placing it too close to my bed and catching the bed on fire. (I threw my pillow and bedclothes onto the roof outside my window, the fire department came and put out the blaze. Crazy stuff, prior to my treatment for Bipolar, but it only served as a warning that I was headed for a total breakdown of functioning and into homelessness.
Fortunately, I entered my first shelter and soon after was referred to a psychiatrist, who placed me on appropriate medication. I believe that this referral and intervention probably saved my life.
Yes, pre-homelessness or homelessness present dangers and damage to body and mind that might not prove reversible. That is why I recommend that folks whose lives seem to be headed in the direction I am describing seek intervention early in the period of decline. You might have to do some heavy searching for competent help. Not every professional whom you approach is necessarily equipped to respond effectively to the problems you present. Be smart about choosing a person to confide in and seek advice from. Examine credentials, but also trust your gut. Having a prestigious degree is not equivalent to having wisdom. I value wisdom in a helper, above all.
If you know someone whose life seems to be falling apart in the way I am describing—if they are experiencing repeated failed relationship and repeated job loss and are exhibiting signs of emotional decline, you are right to make a strong effort to intervene. But in 2014 it is very hard to force someone into treatment. You know the expression, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” This applies to the task of inducing someone to obtain competent professional help. Do all you can but realize that ultimately it is up to the person to accept that he or she has a critical problem and to seek help.