One City, One Book Events

In case you don’t know, Steve Lopez’s The Soloist, the story of a homeless, African American man of prodigious musical talent but beset by schizophrenia, is Greensboro Public Library’s One City, One Book choice this year.

The library kicked off its One City, One Book events on Wednesday, and there are plenty more to come: 

You’ve Read the Book, Now See the Movie

We will be showing “The Soloist,” starring Robert Downey, Jr and Jamie Foxx, Thursday, Sept 23 at 2:30 at the Kathleen Clay Edwards Branch (1420 Price Park Rd). 

“Homeless in America”

See this award-winning documentary on Friday night at 7 PM at the Central Library. Made in 2004 in Los Angeles, “Homeless in America” is a short (30 minutes) documentary about the homeless and those who help them, including the LAPD, Los Angeles Mission, and others. Presents a variety of points of view from those who are directly involved. All the interviews are spontaneous and unrehearsed on location. (219 N. Church St)

Pre-Teen Book Club Reads “Darnell Rock Reporting”

On Thursday (Sept 23) at 4 PM, pre-teen youth (ages 8-12) will discuss “Darnell Rock Reporting,” a novel by Walter Dean Myers about a teen who joins the staff of the school newspaper. After he has a chance encounter with a homeless man, he tries to help him out by writing a story about him (sound familiar?). The discussion will take place at the new McGirt-Horton Branch Library (2509 Phillips Ave.) 

Eternal High

On Saturday at 3 pm, see “Eternal High,” a movie about a 16-year-old boy who documents, over the course of a year,  his experience with depression and suicidal urges. Hemphill Branch Library (2301 W. Vandalia Road).

Touring Theater Presents an Adaptation of “The Soloist” at Triad Stage

The play doesn’t open until October 12, but it is not too early to order your tickets. It runs October 12-17. All performances are at 8 pm except for a Sunday matinée at 2 pm. Tuesday, Oct. 12 is Pay-what-you-can.”  All other performances are $7.50. Call (336) 272-0160 to reserve your seat today.

“Outsider Artist” Presley Ward Featured in Sunday’s News & Record

N&R writer Jeri Rowe features local artist Presley Ward, aka “The Stick Man.”  Mr. Ward shares his experiences as an artist who has frequently experienced homelessness.

Facilitators Trained and Ready

Over the past two weeks, we have trained about 40 people in book discussion facilitation techniques. They are now ready to lead discussions of The Soloist. The training, designed and led by Whitney Vanderwerff, was well-received by all who participated. If your group needs a facilitator, contact Beth Sheffield at beth.sheffield@greensboro-nc.gov 

Thanks to Our Sponsors

About a dozen nonprofit organizations helped plan and implement the 2010 One City, One Book and dozens of other volunteers have already gotten involved in the project. Without all of them, the project would not be possible. Also, we would like to thank the sponsors that have provided financial support: Cemala Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, GTCC, WUNC radio, News & Record, Friends of the Greensboro Public Library and the Greensboro Public Library Foundation.

For more information, please contact:   

Steve Summerford, Asst. Director, Greensboro Public Library, City of Greensboro, Phone:  336-373-3636, PO Box 3136, Greensboro, NC 27402-3136

Mental Illness and Homelessness

In a twist on identity politics (or diversity), this article describes a developing movement among the mentally ill to assert their right to be mad.  They call it “mad pride.”  As Newsweek reporter Alissa Quart puts it, these activists want to embrace their mental diversity by “refram[ing] their conditions and celebrat[ing] unusual (some call them ‘spectacular’) ways of processing information and emotion.”

Though not really a topic of the Newsweek article (which focused more upon madness as a sort of civil right), the story nonetheless reminded me of the continuing problem of the mentally ill homeless and two factors which have shaped the treatment of mental illness during my lifetime:  deinstitutionalization and the anti-psychiatry movement

In the years after the introduction of the antipsychotic drug thorazine in the 1950s, psychiatrists began warming to the idea that many if not most of the chronic mentally ill could be effectively treated with drugs, community mental health services, or some combination thereof.  As a consequence, many state mental hospitals were closed and dramatically fewer patients are hospitalized in these institutions today than was the case fifty years ago.*  This is known as deinstitutionalization.    

About the same time deinstitutionalization began gathering momentum, the anti-psychiatry movement led by figures such as Thomas Szasz and R.D. Laing also became influential.  Hostile to many of the assumptions of establishment psychiatry, the movement took the view that much of accepted psychiatric treatment was ineffective and even harmful.

The extent to which deinstitutionalization and the anti-psychiatry movement are associated with the problem of the homeless mentally ill is debatable.  Decline in the availability of affordable housing is also an important factor in the homelessness of the mentally ill; and anti-psychiatry is motivated by a humanistic perspective which seems at odds with disregard for the plight of the homeless.  Moreover, we would never wish to return to the snake pit mental hospitals of years past.  Yet, there can be little doubt that the anti-psychiatry movement helped to sustain deinsitutionalization; and that the latter has turned many thousands of the mentally ill out into the streets.      

In effect, states and communities have used deinstitutionalization to abdicate from much of their responsibility for the mentally ill.  Though this was undoubtedly an unintended consequence, the long ledger of tragic tales which have resulted — if it could be compiled — would surely astound us.     

I can speak from my own experience here, for I once had a friend named Jack who suffered from schizophrenia following a breakdown about 1970 — he was then in his twenties.  Though he was not homeless, and had access to treatment and medicine, left to his own devices he frequently attempted to self-medicate himself, experimenting with vitamins, alcohol, and who knows what.  I even remember he looked to the rebel anti-psychiatrist R.D. Laing as a sort of a hero for his analysis which implicated families and environmental factors in schizophrenia.  

But eventually, Jack’s self-medicating took a sad turn:  he poisoned himself with rubbing alcohol and died.  It is hard for me to imagine that this could have happened in a hospital; or that Jack’s death could not have been prevented in a community where there was adequate support for the mentally ill.      

I’m sure many of you could share similar stories of families and friends; I think especially of how destructive mental illnesses can be for families. 

At any rate, and getting back to the Newsweek article with which I began, before we follow the “prideful mad” down the road to their delusional rights (which sounds much like anti-psychiatry to me), should we not first focus upon building an infrastructure — both on the state and community level — which can adequately support quality care (whatever that may mean), both for the homeless mentally ill as well as the merely mentally ill?    

If you would like to learn more about the homeless and mental illness, probably the most prolific writer on the subject is the controversial E. Fuller Torrey.  Works of Torrey’s owned by Greensboro Public Library which are in whole or part concerned with this topic include:   Nowhere to Go:  The Tragic Odyssey of the Homeless Mentally Ill (1988); The Insanity Offense:  How America’s Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens (2008); and Out of the Shadows:  Confronting America’s Mental Illness Crisis (1997).

Some other recent books we have on homelessness and/or mental illness which may be of interest include:  Homelessness in the United States, edited by Jamshid A. Momeni; Land of the Lost Souls:  My Life on the Streets by Cadillac Man; The Soloist:  A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music by Steve Lopez; Breakfast at Sally’s:  One Homeless Man’s Inspirational Journey by Richard LeMieux; Scratch Beginnings:  Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard; Have You Found Her:   A Memoir by Janice Erlbaum; Mad in America:  Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill by Robert Whitaker; Girlbomb:  A Halfway Homeless Memoir by Janice Erlbaum; The Glass Castle:  A Memoir by Jeannette Walls; and Without a Net:  Middle Class and Homeless (with Kids) in America:  My Story by Michelle Kennedy.

*According to E. Fuller Torrey, the population of public mental hospitals in the U.S. in 1955 was 558,000; by 2006, it was about 40,000 (The Insanity Offense, p.2).