Thursday, January 22, 2009

"All The Neighbors Can Say Is 'Ain't It a Shame'"

The hit-and-miss journalism of the Chronicle's C.W. Nevius takes another swipe at "homelessness" and "mental illness" this week, with the usual hand-wringing and "why can't we do something about this?" moral outrage.

Well, C.W., here's why...

It seemed everyone in the Tenderloin knew where Caprice Darnell Curry was headed. Last week that's where she ended up - assaulted, stabbed, dead on the street.

What the neighbors can't shake is the gloomy feeling that her death could have been prevented. They knew that Curry, a 31-year-old man who presented himself as a flamboyant, flirtatious woman, had serious psychological problems. They knew she was in danger. Yet when she was taking her meds, Curry could also be charming, caring and likable.

Most of all, they knew that she had the potential to be saved.

We talk a lot about people falling through the cracks of the city's support system. It isn't often that we get to actually watch it happen.

It is ridiculous that this continues. It's easy to say the problem is the number of severely mentally ill or drug-addicted people in the city. The bigger picture is that the city has failed to find a way to deal with two fundamental problems.

It's "easy to say the problem is the number of severely mentally ill or drug-addicted people in the city" BECAUSE IT'S TRUE!!! No one who wasn't lying would deny that San Francisco has an extremely high number of people with severe mental illness, drug addictions, alcoholism, or all of the above - both in terms of sheer numbers and as a percentage of the population. This is of course predicated - and greatly exacerbated by - the city's permissive attitudes towards drug abuse and alcoholism, and an attitude that seems to encourage mental illness and discourage people from taking medication that can help them (but has no trouble advocating "medication" that can harm them).

First, there is no mechanism to compel those with psychological problems or drug addiction to seek help. And second, concentrating those with the very worst problems in the Tenderloin - a center for drug sales and violence, and where there is the city's highest concentration of parolees - is disastrous.

First... who is to blame for that? Mostly the mental health "advocates" who keep insisting that people with severe mental illness are somehow capable of making these decisions. As to the second point... what's the alternative? Spreading those with the "very worst problems" to other neighborhoods, where they can accost families with children, where no one is around to look after them?

In this case, Curry was arrested several times, given medications and encouraged to go to counseling. Yet at the end of the day, she was turned back onto the Tenderloin streets and left to succumb to her tendencies to get herself into drugs and danger.


Eshana Singh is a mental health services program director. She counseled Curry at the Lyric Hotel, a residence for people with both mental health and substance abuse problems.

"If I could have waved a magic wand, it would make her take her medications, to be the incredible person she could be," Singh said.

But there is no magic wand. Does that mean friends have to stand by and watch a slow-motion train wreck?


"We talked about this many times," said David Villa-Lobos, a 28-year Tenderloin resident and executive director of the Community Leadership Alliance. "As many times as this young man went to court, nothing was done. The cops are trying to do their job, but something breaks down in the courts. The poor guy needed some help. He needed some supervision."

Instead, Curry got court dates, warnings and invitations to counseling. Unless the patient is deeply, dangerously disturbed, that's all that can be done.

"The basic problem is that no one can be forced into treatment," said Dr. Bob Cabaj, director of San Francisco Behavioral Health Services. "If someone is deemed not to be gravely disabled, they would be encouraged to follow through (with counseling), but if they don't want to, they don't have to."

There is an alternative. Many of those who work in the system wish they could be empowered as "conservators" for those who are in psychological need. With that authority, health workers could require patients to take their medications and undergo treatment.

"If I could do anything, I would ask to have a stronger ability to use conservatorship when it is appropriate," Cabaj said. "To have someone's case overseen by someone who cares."

And yet, no one seems to be working real hard to make that happen.

Or we can have the alternative - the short, sad life of Caprice Curry.

She was certainly no shrinking violet.

"She strutted around like a model," Singh said. "She was more of a woman than I was. She was very flamboyant and very flirtatious. She flirted with everybody."

But when she wasn't taking her drugs, she could also be mouthy, difficult and argumentative. There were scenes at the local markets, a fight at the Laundromat. She smoked crack.

A month ago she was taken to the hospital after getting beat up. Singh said Curry was given better medications and returned with a new interest in counseling.

But what was it she returned to?

"You see the neighborhood," said Dmitry Erikalov, Curry's friend for nine years. "People get killed there every month. People deal drugs everywhere in the open."

Seth Katzman, who is the director of Conard House, which runs the Lyric Hotel, said the neighborhood is a prescription for failure.

"It is really difficult to put individuals with severe mental illness and substance abuse problem in a neighborhood where so many others have the same problems," he said. "You might go to a 90-day rehab program, and they may do a great job, but when you come back into the Tenderloin and everybody is using, I can't imagine staying sober."

Here's an idea... try going somewhere else!

I'm going to go waaaaay out on a limb here and guess that Curry was not a San Francisco native, and, like many homeless here, she came here from somewhere else for precisely the reasons the "advocates" are trying to "save" her from... drugs, sex, and a place to be crazy without being judged.

Curry didn't. She didn't stay on her meds and she couldn't keep herself out of trouble. At the same time, she was a force of nature at the Lyric, fluttering in and out of Singh's office, flirting with the men and sashaying out the door.

"This is not just another Tenderloin murder," Singh said. "She was a wild child. But she was also loving, caring and considerate. She cared."

And in the end, so did the neighborhood. Erikalov said they raised $7,500 for her funeral. On a glass door at the Lyric is a small shrine, including several pictures. One of them shows Curry standing on the street, grinning into the camera, next to something she used to say all the time.

"You're gonna miss me when I'm gone."

Look... it is always sad to see someone throw their life away... Curry was just a long, slow suicide and there was probably nothing anyone could do.

But the changes you want to see will NEVER happen, because of San Francisco's permissive attitudes towards drug addiction and alcoholism, and its near-celebration of mental illness.

There is, of course, an alternative, and one which I think we will see eventually... whereby mentally ill criminals (and that's what she was) will no longer be given the choice of jail or rehab... you'll get both. There will be "mental health jails" where people who cannot make clear decisions for themselves, and are a danger to themselves and others, will be forced to take their medication, in a situation away from the "general population" of the prison system.

Think the Goddamn liberals will go for that? Me neither.

Plus... I find it very hard to care, especially hot on the heels of a man known to be insane killing a complete stranger just last week near my neighborhood.

The truth is that San Francisco is the most mentally ill city in the USA.


Mel said...

Enjoying the blog.
When you get time, would you please post a nicely cropped close-up of your penis for me?? Thanks (x)

Patrick of Atlantis said...

I'm from out of town, but I like what you are writing. What's with Pelosi? I think she has Mad Cow Disease.