We all know that mental illness can cause homelessness, but can homelessness cause mental illness? There is a woman who wanders the streets of my neighborhood. I first saw her about a year ago. She was well dressed, clean and dragging around one of those wheeled suit cases. A few days latter, I saw her again. This time she was getting thrown out of a store. She was yelling that it wasn't her fault that her boyfriend had thrown her out and she had no place to go.
As the year has passed, she's gotten dirtier, shabbier, and crazier. This afternoon, I saw her at her usual spot, yelling at no one in particular, in what sounded like Italian. As a homeless person, she is isolated. She may see hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people every day, but she has little or no contact with any of them. She just sits there, alone, surrounded by people. I've read that prisoners held in isolation for long periods of time go slowly, irreversibly nuts. I doubt this woman has had a real conversation with another person for the year she's been wandering around the streets. For all I know, even though things seemed normal, she had emotional problems when her boyfriend gave her the boot. But there's no doubt, that things have gotten far worse in the last twelve months. At what point will her descent into madness be irreversible?