Celebrating Tim | Mental Health America

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Celebrating Tim

By Paul Gionfriddo

There are half a million homeless people with serious mental illnesses in desperate need of help yet underserved or ignored by our health and social-service systems. That number can seem overwhelming, but for me, it’s all about one person: my son Tim.

Tomorrow is Tim’s 30th birthday, and I wish I could spend it with him. But I don’t know where he is, so this year I’ll have to settle for the memories of his childhood birthdays. Tim was diagnosed with schizophrenia over two decades ago, and has been homeless on the streets of San Francisco for the last 10. I am a former state legislator, a former mayor, a CEO of a national organization…and even I couldn’t prevent it. Because people with mental illness become homeless as a result not of bad choices but of bad public policy.

There are many differences between me and Tim…I’m in my 60s, he’s half my age. I’m 5’9”, he can appear towering at 6’ 5”. I’ve got graying hair, his hair is dark. I’m white, he’s black. But all of those difference don’t really matter…the only reason Tim is homeless and I’m not is because he has a mental illness. That’s it. Our mental health system has failed him and countless others, and it’s time to change that.

So I can’t turn back time. I can’t spend his 30th birthday with my son. I will pray as I do every day that he is safe and that one day we can get him the help he so desperately needs. Until then, I’m going to keep fighting just like Tim does every day. I’m going to fight to change our mental health care system, to work to get people the help they need when they need it, and to get this country talking and addressing mental illness before Stage 4. I will continue to fight for Tim and for the millions like him affected by mental and substance use conditions who have not had a voice for far too long.

Check out this new short video about Tim and his birthday. Help us celebrate Tim by forwarding it on to your friends and family and starting a conversation about mental health. Finally, consider helping Mental Health America continue our #B4Stage4 campaign by making a donation. It’s time we all come together and fight for people like Tim.


Hi Paul,

I was so sorry to read of your plight and your sad story about your son. As a parent, of two "kids" in their 30's as well, I cannot relate to your problems, but can only feel for you as a parent to another parent, and try to empathize as best as I can. I am a member of NAMI, have been a teacher both in the public and pre school settings for over 25 years. Having dealt with parents of many children, and a nurturer, I do agree, that it is awful that our government agencies are obviously not doing their jobs properly, So much money needs to be appropriated and allocated as is badly needed, for many different causes right here at home, and is way overdue at this point. I pray that you get in contact with your son, either by visiting him in San Francisco, where he is, or by some miracle having him find his way to your and his home. Take care and G-d Bless, him and you! Toby

My daughter has adult on set schizophrenia. She is 22. She does not recognize she needs help. She was an A student in community college before the on set of mental illness.She has spent the last year and a half living in and out of homeless shelters. We have tried and tried to get her help - our effects fail because she is always asked if she wants or needs help and of course says no. The list of trauma she has gone through on the streets is long and gets longer each time we rescue her only for her to return to the street. She is currently undergoing her 2nd hospitalization. The system is indeed broke and along with it the hearts of way too many families who feel helpless when attempting to get services for those they love!

It broke my parents hearts that my brother and because of a traumatic brain injury, my twin sister both were mentally ill.

Hi, I just finished reading "The Wealth of the Poor" by Larry James, and am still digesting it. "CitySquare" in one of the poorest parts of Dallas, TX seems to be working in getting homeless folks off the streets. Please consider reading the book.

Paul, I'm sorry for the distress your sons choices cause you and your family. However, I disagree that he's homeless because he's mentally ill. I believe people are homeless because they don't have an acceptable place to live. Their physical or emotional disability should not make a difference. We need to find ways to support people despite any differences they might have. If we found an acceptable place for your son, then he wouldn't be homeless. I had a friend who used a back check to buy a boat and he lived on the boat in the San Francisco Bay area and was never homeless again. We need to be creative and understanding to help support people in different circumstances.

I'm sorry Pat but you are not quite correct in assuming that it is just having a place to live. Unfortunately mental illness may affect whether or not a person will stay in housing. The laws protecting civil rights of individuals have adversely limited getting very ill persons to take meds, if in fact there are meds that can help. Having several mentally ill family members, from experience I can say that there is no easy fix to this issue, but public policy is a logical start. I have struggled to navigate the bureaucracy to get treatment, aid etc. and the system does not work as it stands now.

I agree that homeless does not always equal mental illness, but your comment about Mr. Gionfriddo's son's choices bothers me. Would you clarify your comment? My adult daughter is schizophrenic and I am constantly running into problems finding and keeping programs that might possibly benefit her because the agencies providing the programs appear to follow guidelines that were written as if mentally ill people are always capable of making choices that are in their best interests. It has been among the more frustrating things I have run in to.

I agree with you Pat. My own son died as a homeless person in Santa Barbara. He was homeless because he did not have an acceptable place to live. Mental "illness" had nothing to with his problems, as mental "illness" is simply a construct devised by our society to describe somebody who does not quite fit in. Yes, we do "need to be creative and understanding to help support people in different circumstances." Thank you for speaking up, Pat!

March 16th, Dr. Phil devoted his entire program to the parents of the young man with PTSD and paranoid schizophrenia who killed two men when he had a psychotic break. The award winning film "American Sniper" was about the life of one of the men who was murdered. Dr. Phil interviewed both parents of the young man with paranoid schizophrenia/PTSD who murdered two men. I was shocked to learn both a private psychiatric hospital refused to treat the paranoid schizophrenic man and also the Veterans Administration Psychiatric Hospital denied inpatient mental health hospitalization stating "He does not meet the criteria for inpatient hospitalization". The young man only received slap-dash, cursory mental health treatment and was shortly discharged onto the street with absolutely no treatment plan, no medication, no after-care plan and no "Wrap Around" services by Veterans Administration Psychiatric Hospital staff and the private psych hospital. The result of this substandard, barbaric non-delivery of mental health services resulted in the paranoid schizophrenic man getting a gun and murdering two men. One of those men was the gentleman's whose life is highlighted in the award winning film "American Sniper".

When will our government FINALLY provide comprehensive mental health treatment? What will it take? How many lives need to be ruined by not receiving holistic, patient-centric mental health services?

One big problem is psych medications are prescribed without on-going bloodwork draws and mental health patients are badly medicated, over-medicated and not given ongoing psychotherapy or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. I am definitely NOT anti-medication - but there seems to be a tendency for clinicians just to bombard patients with medication - when the medication does not work - then instead of the clinician taking responsibility to prescribe the CORRECT medication - the patient gets blamed for "not being compliant" or "treatment resistant".

Art therapy, dance therapy, music therapy, Nutritional Neurochemistry and Complimentary/Integrative Medicine combined with a nutrition based approach - completely eliminating junk food, processed food, fast food (containing high levels of neurotoxins) can work wonders for consumers of mental health services.

Your personal story is not an unfamiliar one. I have a son, 33 and is diagnosed schizoaffective. After his first hospitalization he went to Board and Care, stable on meds he moved into a Room and Board. Then for several years he lived in a campsite with a relative. Now that relative is gone and he's living in my garage meeting with a case manager on housing lists which could take 2 years to result in a safe independent place to live. When will we face the facts that as a nation we have a bigger need for housing than we have houses. And not just housing but supportive services that can be individually tailored. If we're really focused on "recovery" then the resources must be available to support "recovery"!


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