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Hearing Voices and Facing Homelessness

Posted on March 7, 2016 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Catholic Charities stepped in to stop 6,349 families from becoming homeless last year. 6,349. That’s a big number.  But what matters most is the individual, his story and how we can help.

The day before Orville McLaren – who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, poverty and cascading physical disabilities – was about to be evicted, he came to Catholic Charities for help.

But intervening was not easy. Similar to so many of the men and women we see mumbling to themselves on city streets, Mr. McLaren lacks the consistent lucidity needed to manage for himself and knows few people willing to help.

He struggles for independence, hurts no one and tries to live a “normal” life.  Even after the voices – actually, his deceased mother’s voice – began in his head, he was able to graduate from Manhattan Technical School and worked as a chef, gypsy cab driver and security guard. 

But the voices always won, causing him to lose jobs and spend two years in Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. After he was released he fluctuated between homelessness, abuse in city shelters and being taken advantage of by his landlord.

Catholic Charities mobilized immediately.  Its attorneys discovered the reason Mr. McLaren fell behind in his rent. It turned out that his landlord, looking to rent out his apartment for a higher price, refused, month after month, to accept the subsidized Section 8 rent Mr. McLaren paid.  Catholic Charities took the landlord to court, stopped the eviction and covered Mr. McLaren’s back rent. His case manager also referred him to Office of Mental Health for support. Finally, in September 2015, after the landlord was brought to court 11 times, a judge ordered the landlord to stop harassing Mr. McLaren, renew his lease and start taking his rent.

That Mr. McLaren hears voices from people who are not there is just the beginning of his medical problems.  His bones are rotting from degenerative joint disease.  He also suffers from hypertension, gastro esophageal reflux disease, hyperlipidemia blood disorder and arteriosclerotic heart disease.  His arthritis becomes so inflamed in the winter that he can barely walk.

And because he is impoverished, he has no comfortable furniture on which to rest.  So Catholic Charities bought him a bed and furnishings.  Staff also provides extensive case management to ensure Mr. McLaren can live as independently as possible while receiving the support he needs.

“Some days I’m not with it,” Mr. McLaren says.  “Depression and paranoia keep me locked in and my landlord’s harassment made it all worse.  Thank God I don’t have to worry anymore about losing my home.”