By Nathan Fox
That’s right. My cousin Craig, 45, is currently homeless. But who am I, and why am I telling you this?
My name is Nathan Fox, and I’m passionate about fighting the social phenomena we call homelessness, both locally, and as a larger-scale societal issue. Currently I work at the Partnership for Strong Communities, a Hartford-based advocacy group that promotes solutions to homelessness and the development of affordable housing. Simply put, my life revolves around contemplating homelessness and its multiple, often misunderstood causes.
For our purposes today, what I do isn’t all that important - I tell you for context - but my cousin Craig is important, seeing that he doesn’t have a place to call home each night. There are a lot of people out there similar to Craig, who often can’t meet the demands and rigors of the “everyday struggle.”
Unfortunately it’s easy to condemn Craig’s struggles with the usual “well he must be irresponsible. How does a 45 year old man become homeless?” But it’s far more complicated than “Craig can’t get his stuff together.”
For you see, Craig has a serious mental health issue. He has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder for many years, a condition that he has struggled and coped with for all those years, but it recently caught up with him. His mother, my Aunt Susan, passed away 3 years ago, and my father passed away 6 months after, and since then he has lost the ability to keep his life pieced together.
Since Susan passed, Craig has not only lost his job, something that has happened in the past, but he has also lost his circle of friends, who for a number of years were his first line of defense. Without their support he has been unable to maintain.
I share this story because Craig’s homelessness crept up on me. Growing up, I remember Craig as the big cousin, who despite his bullying was one of my favorite family members. Craig kept me on my toes when only child syndrome kicked in.
Craig leant me his Acura Integra when I was 17, allowing me to drive it to school every day - which is a big deal, for those of us who have forgotten the thrill of driving to school.
Everyone who becomes homeless does so due to a different set of circumstances: recently a number of families in Connecticut and across the country have lost their home due to factors related to the Great Recession, while individuals with mental health issues can’t HELP themselves when their issue flares up.
Craig is family, but I’ve ignored his plight the past few months. I’m only 26, so my mentality has been “how can I help him when I’m trying to find my own footing.” I know now that this was a mistake, even if there’s nothing I can tangibly do to improve his life. Even considering his plight is a huge step from where I was before, when I was denying the truth and avoiding the fact that my favorite cousin is homeless.
Maybe you have a cousin with a mental health issue? Or may-be your best friend has a relative with a mental health issue. Given the concept of “6 degrees of separation” you are probably connected, even if only in a small way, to someone who either is struggling with homelessness or a mental health issue.
Hopefully after reading this you will stop to consider these connections, and be more likely to remember the inter-related nature of mental health and homelessness the next time you happen across someone without a home.
Craig can’t help himself right now, so let’s leave that old argument at the door. He’s tried time and time again to hold his life together, but his extreme periods of depression have led him to lose his home, and everything he cares for.
It’s up to you and me to help the Craigs of the world get back up when they fall down.