Extended client profile from
Crackheads and Zeroes of the Zeta Function, as part of a larger city planning draft.
My co-worker and I are watching footage of a sociopathic six-year-old who's popped the necks of two pet birds, and she says, "Her therapist is terrible. If I had that kid, I'd be asking, 'Do you understand what death is? That you ain't coming back?'"
This question plays through my head for the rest of the day.
7:30am: Mr. Miller's psychiatric intake. OCD coupled with Catholic Guilt, years of booze, head injuries, PTSD, and no sleep means every answer is a slam poetry contest.
"I wasn't, wasn't trying to kill myself.
I got out of prison in New Jersey
Not in Arizona
If I said yes I meant no
Do you spell New Jersey with a Z?
Show me how to spell New Jersey
I got out of prison and I took two bottles of pills
I sat on the curb by the fire station and said
I'm not trying to kill myself
Then the firemen took me to Saint Mary's
They gave me a shot of something to calm down
I don't remember anything after that."
When we finish, he taps five times on the door and leaves. I offer to buy him rosary beads, but he stopped believing in those things years ago.
I first met Mr. Miller at a Starbucks at the behest of a local journalist and my boss, neither of whom are in the habit of dropping everything to advocate for one out of a sea of homeless men like Calvino's angel plucking Saint Peter's mother out of Hell. He was neat and overly polite, his face weathered by depression like a baseball glove.
After the enrollment questions I offered him a change of clothes, but he refused. When your pattern recognition apparatus is on over-drive, any small blemish or malfunction ruins an object, so anything we gave him---a cell phone, a portable radio, a winter coat---ended up in the trash. Nothing is clean enough. He'll spend forty minutes washing his hands and then bend over the ground, arguing with himself (or his father's voice) about how he'll go to Hell if he doesn't pick up all the trash in the parking lot. We now give him gift cards.
He didn't fit anywhere. Shelters made him paranoid and led to fights. Sleeping on the church steps meant living in a thin layer of dirt and personal funk. Every few weeks he'd be too sad to function and check himself into Dekalb Medical, but who wants to live in a hospital? During the winter I'd drive him on a circuitous route to McDonald's so he could warm up and listen to "Country Folk Can Survive" on repeat, his fingers tapping out a Fibonacci sequence, nails bitten down to the bloody quick.
Once we got his New Jersey birth certificate (which took several months, three mail-in attempts, forgery, medical claims, tracking down his alienated parents, begging like a little bitch to the poor woman who ran his parish vital records office, and eventually discovering a state law where ex-cons could get it for free with their social worker's signature), I took him to a Social Security contractor with an armload of his medical records and 8 months later, after wrestling money from Arizona and setting up a representative payee so wouldn't have to manage his own finances, he qualified for Medicaid and his first disability check appeared.
By this time I'd holed him up in a non-congregate hotel, a pandemic windfall that gave 90 days of free shelter to medically fragile homeless adults who tested negative for covid-19, and miraculously saw him paired with a second case manager whose child had an identical OCD diagnosis ("Oh Mr. Miller, you can't keep all the lunch trays in your room, but I'll let you clean up since I know you'll do a much better job than me.")
One day a housing offer landed, a one-bedroom apartment with sliding scale rental assistance and wrap-around mental health services, but when I pulled up the housing spreadsheet (a giant unholy matrix where hundreds of clients are prioritized based on length of homelessness, vulnerability score, and whether they have their six forms of ID) I didn't see his name.
(I should preface that the following conversation went very smoothly and professionally, but only because every caregiver involved was quick to reply to e-mails/text messages/phone calls. Half the case managers in this business are unreachable unless you hunt them down in person and bring Skittles. Also I changed their names to famous WWE wrestlers)
Me: "Heeeeey why don't I see Mr. Miller on the list?"
Housing Navigator: "He's still attached to Randy Savage Hospital, which makes him invisible to you. Contact their man."
Me: "Hey Randy Savage, Mr. Miller's been offered an apartment."
Randy Savage: "Really? I thought Rey Mysterioso was in charge of finding him housing."
Me: "Hey Mysterioso, have you found housing for him yet?"
Rey Mysterioso: "Nope! If you have something, let's do that instead."
Housing Navigator: "Have we asked the client if he wants this housing option?"
Me and Hulk Hogan: "Yes, Mr. Miller calls us five times a day, every day, sometimes at 7 a.m., because prime numbers are lucky. He wants an apartment."
There followed a few minor bureaucratic pitfalls, ranging from "you need to backdate this document so HUD will think he's been homeless long enough" to "someone forgot to check the Disabled box", but eventually we bundled off his papers and now await the city's decision, like Catholics staring at the church and wondering what color the smoke will be.