The Soloist, by Steve Lopez, was selected as this year's read by the City of Philadelphia. Now a columnist for the L.A. Times, Mr. Lopez was formerly a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The book brings to light the issues of Homelessness, Mental Illness and Substance Abuse as they relate to the evolving relationship between Mr. Lopez and Nathaniel Anthony Ayers. Mr. Ayers, a middle-aged African American, is a gifted musician who studied at Julliard. As a young adult, he was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia. His illness caused him to leave Julliard, and in his younger years he was hospitalized more than once and placed on Psychiatic medications. Eventually, he found his way to L.A., where he stopped his medication and lived on the streets still playing his old,shabby violin.
Steve Lopez meets Mr. Ayers on the Streets of L.A. while "fishing" for stories for his columns. He recognizes his musical talent and (correctly) guesses that there is a history behind this homeless musician. With Mr. Ayers's permission, he publishes a series of columns which makes Mr. Ayers somewhat of a celebrety. New instruments are donated to him and offers of help pour in. The story recounts the bond that developes between them. The relationship that developes between Mr. Lopez and Mr. Ayers is at times rewarding,challenging, and frustrating for both men. Both learn and grow from their experiences together.
In honor of Social Work Month, our Social Work Staff has selected The Soloist to read next month. Like L.A., Philadelphia has a significant Homeless population.
While some are simply down on their luck, most suffer from serious mental illness &/or Substance Abuse problems. The health and social service delivery system is fragmented. Affordable housing is scarce. There are ethical issues involved related to an individuals' right to self determination vs. society's obligation to care for a vulnerable population. This is a disenfrancised group who can/do not advocate for themselves. For sure, there are some very successful programs which house and support formerly homeless individuals. How do you coax a homeless person into a program? Most homeless people will never have an advocate like Steve Lopez. And, the Homeless population continues to grow. How do you prevent Homelessness?
I work at an urban Nursing Home. Some of our residents were homeless &/or had a long history of mental illness before suffering a serious medical crisis. They now require a degree of medical and nursing care/supervision that is not available in the community at this time. Though I firmly believe that people should live in the least restictive environment, it does drive me crazy when some advocates referr to these people as being "institutionalized" in a Nursing Home.
I hope that The Soloist and the movie, which is due out in the Spring, will bring some much needed attention to the plight of the Homeless . I am looking forward to our Book Discussion next month.