I recently watched the movie The Soloist, a moving true story of Steve Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and his friendship with Nathaniel Ayers, an enormously talented musician who is mentally ill and lives on one of L.A.'s most dangerous street corners.
It's heart-wrenching to see the enormity of this problem, one I am well aware of, having a brother who is mentally ill and homeless. Lopez points out that 90,000 homeless people live on the streets of Los Angeles. I can barely comprehend that number, but people like my brother Scott or Nathaniel Ayers who wander the streets put a face on this tragedy.
For years, my family members have agonized over how to help Scott. One year at Thanksgiving, he came to visit our parents, and ended up staying because he was arrested for his threatening behavior. He was court-ordered to attend out-patient therapy and started taking medication to help with his schizophrenic symptoms. He seemed to be making some progress, but complained about side effects from his meds. Eventually, he took off and went back to live on the streets in California.
Last year, when I was visiting there, I was able to contact Scott and we set a time to meet for lunch at a local Denny's. Scott and another homeless friend pedaled to the restaurant on bikes and kept saying during lunch that they'd won the jackpot that day--having a Grand Slam breakfast.
Scott insisted that though he doesn't like sleeping out in the woods, he does enjoy his freedom. His friend agreed. The mental health agency in their area could help them find a small, government-subsidized apartment, but there are rules and curfews. Neither of these men are willing to submit to that.
I gave Scott a piece of paper with a local church's phone number. I had heard of their ministry to homeless people, and those who struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction. I thought Scott might find help there--if he chose to call them.
And that's the key: if they are willing. It's something I was reminded of while watching The Soloist. Steve Lopez learned that his good intentions to support his homeless friend didn't always work out the way he anticipated. His agenda was to help Nathaniel get treatment, a noble cause. But what happens when the person you're trying to help, doesn't want any of it?
Though I can continue to pray for Scott and hope he will decide he's tired of living like an animal (as he has admitted on more than one occasion), I realize I don't have any control over his situation. What I can do is love him and accept him unconditionally. No agendas. No plans to make a difference or force him into treatment. That's a huge step forward for me and a no-strings-attached gift of love for Scott.