Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Face #3 New Orleans Mental Health Crisis. Meet Raymond Hall

Duncan Plaza
New Orleans, La.
July 2007

Dear Family and Friends,

Raymond tried to eat the slice of pepperoni pizza. He really did. Problem was, his teeth are falling out. But before they leave, he says, the teeth break off in pieces.

Hall was one of the first homeless New Orleanians I saw who came to protest the inadequate public housing in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Over 100 people night after night sleep in the shadow of City Hall at Duncan Plaza. They sleep in the gently elevated grass and under a statue of George Washington. And next to a boarded and vacant state office built the same year as City Hall.

As I walked by them the other evening, the air had cooled, many people were up telling stories, smoking cigarettes. The main branch of the New Orleans public library is next to Duncan Plaza. About 30 people sleep under a library canopy too. An electrical outlet is used by a woman’s boombox. It’s not quite a nightlight, but she seemed peaceful.

Hall, 56, wasn’t here for KATRINA. He’s one of the few, I’m sure. But, as a Vietnam veteran who lost two young children, ages three and five, in a house fire, he deals with his share of psychological trauma.

“In less than 30 days I was back on a plane to Vietnam.”

He, like many homeless, are in “as is” condition. His chest is ribby, with wispy grey hair. He could use 25-30 pounds. A crucifix hangs from his neck. Hall isn’t the only one who sleeps outside with a faith in a god.

He came to New Orleans after losing federal disability assistance in Florida. He tried to explain what happened, but it was tough to follow. It’s a similar story for many I’ve spoken with. Hall couldn’t remember dates, he jumped around, didn’t know names of lawyers instead beginning with “The guy said…”

Carl Davis was the same way. “He’s out of DC, ah, I can’t remember the guy’s name” kind of thing.

It’s one of the most difficult things about learning their stories. Truth is, often Davis and Hall probably remember only half of their own.

But, Hall came here as a musician. A percussionist, he says. Like Davis, Hall hears voices, “They say different things, like spirits” he says. He’s diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, but has no prescriptions to tame anxiety.

When he feels bad, Hall says he just wants to go away. He understands his problems.

“I need medication,” he says.

Problem is, there aren't many here to prescribe it.



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