Everyone has a story. But if the person happens to be homeless, it will probably be a long one, rife with twists and turns.
And the everyday passerby is sometimes too quick to dismiss someone they see on the street as a lost cause. And because of biases against the homeless, or the inclination to avoid the homeless we do not hear their story and miss the chance to understand how they may have ended up homeless.
Instead of seeing the homeless as something they should avoid, more people should try and see that there is someone who needs some help. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, 33% of the homeless are individuals with serious mental illness.
Hawaii native Ben Taparra was out on the street and hooked on methamphetamine. When locals looked at him, they saw nothing but an unruly man who would spit, cuss, and aimlessly wander the streets.
For over a decade, Taparra used meth and other drugs to drown out the voices he heard from severe schizophrenia.
Ben Taparra, 62, was homeless in Honolulu, Hawaii for 10 years. He used crystal meth to self-medicate for schizophrenia.
Taparra lost contact with his family, including his children. They grew up, got married, and had children of their own, all while Taparra was on the street.
Most were quick to write Taparra off as a lost cause.
“For people who have both a mental illness and severe addiction, for them to deal with both of them fairly successfully is pretty miraculous,” Dr. Chad Koyanagi said to Hawaii News Now.
Koyanagi is part of the only street psychiatry team in Hawaii. For over four years, the team has traveled Hawaii, providing case management and other services to the mentally ill homeless. In some cases, also offering a life changing medicine in the form of a long-term injection that would help them cope with their disease better and could lead to life changing improvements.
The psychiatric street team injected Taparra with a medical serum that has helped him deal with schizophrenia and finally get off the street.
As of January 31, it’s been one year since Taparra received his injection from the team. In that time, he’s made remarkable strides on the road to recovery.
“I’ve been concentrating on making amends,” he said to Hawaii News now.
In addition to getting sober, Taparra is adjusting to living in his own apartment, and regularly attends group therapy sessions.
Now that he is off the street, Taparra is focusing on making up for lost time with his family.
The injection offered to Taparra has helped him cope with his mental illness, but kicking his addiction and getting his life on track has been a matter of will power.
“I do a lot of transcendental meditation to remind myself that I don’t have the problems that I used to have,” he said.
“They said they forgave me for being a terrible father and never being there for them,” he said.
His grandchildren have become the light of his life, and he looks forward to phone calls with his son and hearing their rambunctious voices on the other end.
“They’re just so full of life,” he says. “Every time I’m on the phone with my son, the older one comes and screams in the phone, ‘Hi Grandpa!'”