Friday, April 29, 2011

Dancing with Demons: Homelessness and Mental Illness

Last night at the Northlands Conference I performed my "Dancing with Demons" a work-in-progress. The audience's response was positive and their feedback helpful. Most importantly the audience stated that they gained insight about the life of those who are homelessness and face challenge of mental illness. My hope is to now hone and refine the piece. I am hoping the work can be used to advocate for programs and services and also challenge some of the harsh judgmental attitudes towards the homeless.

Below is a little more information that was included in the program about the performance.


Mental Illness and Homelessness

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20 to 25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness. In comparison, only 6% of Americans are severely mentally ill (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009). In a 2008 survey performed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 25 cities were asked for the three largest causes of homelessness in their communities. Mental illness was the third largest cause of homelessness for single adults (mentioned by 48% of cities). For homeless families, mental illness was mentioned by 12% of cities as one of the top three causes of homelessness.*

Dancing with Demons

I walk down the street. I am uneasy. She screams. Her arms push frantically through the empty air. She slips to the ground. She covers her head. She screams “Go away, go away,” but the demons do not go away.

This story and others from across the country are the foundation of tonight’s performance. The stories written originally as poems are based on my experiences of the homeless over the last fifteen years. I believe my motivation might rise from my own experiences of traveling up and down the East Coast. I did not know where I would sleep or whom I would meet. Mostly, I was lucky but not always.

*National Coalition for the Homeless
2201 P Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037-1033