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'In a War Without a Gun' : Struggle Now Is Off the Streets

December 31, 1987|JAY GOLDMAN | Times Staff Writer

Geraldine Ellen describes her mental illness as "a hellhole. Once you're in it's hard to get out."

"I felt I was brainwashed by the people who ran the shelters. I began to want to fight and kill the people who were hurting me, those who would not give me food and shelter. At one time I tried to get a gun," Geraldine, who withheld her last name, said, recalling the three years she spent primarily on the city streets.

Geraldine, who said she is a paranoid schizophrenic, is under psychiatric care and for the past year has lived in a board-and-care home on the Westside.

Although at times she managed to get welfare and a room in a Skid Row hotel, often her only shelter was a dumpster or a public bathroom. And she spent much of her time fearful of dangers both real and unreal.

"I was cold, hungry, worried sick, paranoid," she said.

"I turned into a complete violent person," she said, apologetically explaining that she could not help herself.

At 46, Geraldine seems calm and friendly, her blond hair carefully arranged, wearing small earrings and a modest amount of makeup.

But until a year ago she was completely dominated by paranoia and noises only she could hear.

"There's no peace on the streets," she said. "There was nothing to hold on to. It was like I was in a war without a gun."

A year ago when she applied to an alcohol detoxification program as a way to get off the streets, she was referred to Dr. Paul S. Joseph, a county psychiatrist.

Now she has a simple but clean room she shares with another resident of her group home.

Although she is now receiving medication and therapy, she said it is still a struggle on some days for her to maintain her balance.

"I can be totally sane one day and the next day be in a cloud, paranoid, afraid and hearing voices," she said. "But I fight the hard days to try to make them into good days.

"I don't know if I will ever be able to work again, or what will happen to me. But now I am able to laugh. I have a roof over my head and if I get destructive I can get help," Geraldine said.

"I don't know how it happened," she said, referring to her illness, "but it did happen and I'm trying to work it out."

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