Monday, June 4, 2007

Meet Carl Davis. A Face of the New Orleans' Mental Health Crisis

May, 2007
Duncan Plaza, City Hall
New Orleans, La.

Dear Family and Friends,

Carl Davis makes me nervous. Asking a homeless guy if he’s a hustler doesn’t happen everyday. But, I wanted to know.

After all, he might be one of the best hustlers on the streets of
New Orleans. He was charming despite terribly sun-cracked and blistered lips.

“Are you a hustler?” I ask.

“You know what a hustler is?” he says. “They’re the guys that ask a few bucks from everybody, line up 30 or 40 dollars and buy crack with it.

Then, they’ll try and bum a cigarette the next day.”

Carl and I are on the steps of Duncan Plaza, the park outside of New Orleans’ City Hall. The things he says are frightening. And the dent in his head is all the evidence I need to know he’s truthful.

He’s been homeless on and off since 1981. The father of six is “ashamed.” “I don’t want them to see me,” he says.

He also hasn’t seen a mental health professional in four years. It’s early morning now, and the voices haven’t started yet, he says.

We talked openly about the mental health struggles he’s had. “I see monsters,” he says. “They try to get me.”

Voices tell him to jump in the Mississippi river. He’s tried twice since KATRINA. Both times, a more loving voice told him not to do it. “I want to go to heaven,” he says.

He tells me that the drugs made him groggy and that New Orleans doesn't have any good psychiatrists. It’s funny, there really aren’t enough here to take a sample of good and bad.

Twenty-six psychiatrists are registered in Orleans parish post-Katrina. There’s probably more on one block in Manhattan.

Psychiatric beds are down more than 80 percent. The mentally ill homeless picked up tend to be taken to jail by the NOPD. It’s out of necessity, not malice. There is nowhere to put them, the police department says.

Some people say the earth is not a cold, dead place. But we do forget people.

Carl Davis is 54. He was a pipe-fitter, has a great smile and better demeanor.

Don’t forget him.

We Americans have forgotten enough people post-Katrina in serious need of help with their mental health.

It’s a crisis. More psychiatrists/psychologists/crisis counselors, etc. are needed here.

Write your Senators and Congressmen.



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