Her wrists are the size of a small child’s, encompassed by wrinkles. They don’t look as though they are able to support the hands fidgeting in front of her body. She pinches a wedding band on her ring finger between her index finger and thumb twisting it toward and away from her while she sits at one of the off-white cafeteria tables in the room.
“I’ll never get rid of this ring,” said Kim, who requested her last name be withheld. She looked down at her finger and then up with a smile.
“He died too soon. Too soon,” Kim said in a low whisper. “But, here I am and I have Randy and I love him too. I love ‘em both. And Randy don’t mind that.”
Randy, who also requested his last name be withheld, is her boyfriend.
Randy’s eyes didn’t leave the TV in the corner of the cafeteria once.
“Sure,” he said.
Kim and Randy are two of the 1,938 people experiencing homelessness in Tarrant County.
Kim is one of the 491 homeless individuals suffering from a mental illness, according to this year’s census of the county’s homeless population.
The number of homeless persons with a mental illness accounts for 25 percent of the homeless population, according to this year’s census.
The large percentage of homeless persons with a mental illness is nothing new to Fort Worth.
In 2015, 21 percent of the 1,914 homeless individuals, who were living in Tarrant County, were suffering from a mental illness, according to the homeless census. The 2014 census showed 19 percent of the county’s homeless battling mental illness.
These high percentages might actually be a conservative number when compared to the reality.
Tara Perez, manager of Fort Worth’s Directions Home Program, a 10-year plan to reduce homelessness said the reported number of homeless individuals with a mental illness is higher than what is reported.
“[The homeless census is] a self-report and compared to what providers find when they’re assessing people and trying to place them in housing that number seems to be lower than it actually is,” Perez said.
Kim twists her wedding band back and forth while her smile fades from her lips as she talks about wanting to get out of the shelter and into her own home.
“I don’t think it is possible, or ever will be, ” she said. “I got a hard time remembering little things, and I always needed help with my head — it was never normal like others.”
The little things she forgets can have big consequences, like forgetting to turn the stove off when she left her house.
She has been visiting doctors, but said her mental condition hasn’t seen enough improvement for her to be safe living alone, even after five years.
Kim said she has been diagnosed with derealization disorder.
Derealization disorder can cause a person to feel detached from their surroundings, as if they are in a dream, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The rate of mental illness among the homeless population in the United States is double the rate found in the general population, according to the American Psychological Association.
One in five, or 18.5 percent of adults in the “general population” experience mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Currently, there are groups and resources for homeless individuals battling mental health issues.
One is the Mental Health Mental Retardation of Tarrant County, MHMR of Tarrant County, which works to increase housing opportunities for people receiving services from them.
Another is John Peter Smith Health Network, (JPS), which has a homeless program that helps individuals or families in need of medical assistance, but without financial means to afford the services. JPS has a partnership with local shelters where individuals can go and get the assistance they need to be seen at a JPS facility.
Still, homeless individuals who are mentally ill typically deal with law enforcement, said Stephen Karnes, executive director of The Journey Street Newspaper.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics in the U.S. Department of Justice found that homelessness was a common factor among inmates with mental health problems. Researchers found that state prisoners and local jail inmates with a mental health problem were twice as likely to have been homeless the year before their incarceration than inmates without them.
Fort Worth has some new initiatives to help the homeless, some specifically targeting those with mental health issues.
James Petrovich, associate professor of social work at Texas Christian University, is working with True Worth Clinic on the development of a new shelter coming to East Lancaster Avenue, which will include a JPS clinic that will help with medical and mental health services.
“We are partnering with a number of providers in the community, like MHMR of Tarrant County, Goodwill Industries, JPS Health Network, Recovery Resource Council,” Petrovich said.
“Our goal is to give them space to where they can come in and meet with our guests and make sure that our guests are getting what they need,” he said.
Petrovich said certain staff members’ jobs will be to make sure individuals are getting the services they need and the services are working.
The Healthy Community Collaborative program through the state is recently starting in Fort Worth, Perez said.
“It is a rapid rehousing program for those that struggle with mental illness,” Perez said.
These initiatives may help Kim have a better chance at receiving good mental health care and getting the apartment and life she wants for herself than she has previously had.
Petrovich said the facilities are going to be nice; but what is really needed, is the community to come to the area and volunteer to help by giving more than just items, but companionship.
“Homelessness is a really lonely place to be and nobody is starving to death down there for food, but they are starving for companionship,” he said.
When the conversation stopped, Kim slid her right arm through the loop Randy had accidentally formed by crossing his arms on the cafeteria table. His eyes still glued to the TV, he leaned over and kissed the side of her head.
She closed her eyes, leaned into him and smiled.