For many years I worked on Skid Row. It is actually where this blog was born. Skid Row is the most disgusting, smelly circle of Hell that most people run past.
But, if you look around, you will find people and beauty that can break your heart. People who do not have regular shelter tend to die sooner. When you are a case manager or involved with this population at all, it’s not surprising to have most of your caseload die. I have outlived so many people that have taught me, taunted me, and now have haunted me.
While I worked there, I made the acquaintance of a world-famous artist and incredible talent. He ran a program teaching homeless people house paint and how to express themselves through art.
most of my clients hadn’t been officially diagnosed by the Department of mental health and we’re not getting the treatment or medication or validation that they needed. Some of them were frightened of this process and didn’t want to be labeled.
Artist. Everybody likes that label. Rory taught so many people how to paint and when there are projects sold then they got a portion of their proceeds. You can see some of their artwork still hanging in businesses and hotels and civic offices throughout Los Angeles. I was flipping through Facebook yesterday and came across this portrait of Mr Jenkins. My heart stopped.
I think of this man everyday. I think of him whenever I watch that show about feet and gnarly toes. I once spent two hours fixing Tommy’s feet when his toenails had grown up and then his big toenail made a square turn and grew across the width of his foot. he could not put on shoes he could not put on socks and he could barely walk. So I sucked it up and put a bandana across my face like I was a bandit. I soaked his feet pulled out a Dremel and clippers and went to town. It was disgusting.
No. Not him or his toes, I was disgusted by the fact that so many other case managers and programs and fully functional adults who were in the area and proclaimed to be advocates and helpful had done absolutely nothing about this man’s feet because they thought it was beneath them. now, fixing his feet didn’t change much for him. He was able to walk around and get around easier but it did not ease his mental illness it did not change his housing situation, although he did get married soon after this.
What it did I was show this man that I was there for him. That it did not matter how strange or time consuming or unconventional the task was, if he asked me for help I would do my best to get it for him. Sometimes that meant just doing it my own self.
One time my oldest daughter had left Play-Doh in the car, I did not know that, well Tommy jumped in my car one day and demanded I drive him somewhere. He was wearing shorts and we were then together in a very hot car. Being southern California, the weather can get really hot and the temperature inside a car can go over a hundred. Mr Jenkins sat on top of the super hot Play-Doh and burned the back of his leg. He made fun of me forever for burning his butt.
As I looked through the website for the artworks continuum that Roy White has put together, I am grieving. My heart hurts.
No, not because I miss the opportunity to be taught by a talented artist, but because I am living in a world without so many of these artists still in it. I am grieving because I am alive due to the fact that I have good medical care and food and shelter and those are the exact reasons so many of these artists are dead.
We often glamorize the mental health of tortured souls of famous artists. Well I think that’s a stupid plan. But what we can do is look for the beauty of every soul we meet, tortured or otherwise.