Schizophrenic Man’s Journey Out of Homelessness

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Photo of Laura and Ed Noe, courtesy of Laura Noe

When Angel Salinas immigrated to Connecticut from Ecuador, he opened Johanna’s, a small restaurant for breakfast and lunch, in downtown New Milford. One day a disheveled, smelly homeless man showed up at his back door. It was Ed Noe. This began a friendship where Salinas fed Ed breakfast and lunch for nine years.

A little strange, but nothings really wrong

Ed’s older sister Laura Noe remembers talking to one of Ed’s childhood friends who said that there was something different about Ed back in grade school. He would hear voices but everyone thought it was a childish thing.

“He was just my quirky, cool little brother,” said Laura.

Ed struggled in high school and was sent to the Thomas Moore School where he graduated in 1986. He went onto graduate the University of Maine in Orono with an Associates Degree in Forestry. Ed loved trees and the outdoors.

Laura began to notice Ed’s bizarre behavior in college but made nothing of it until their mother died of brain cancer in 1990. Their family dealt with the pain by keeping it hidden and not talking, which Laura believes were contributing factors to sending Ed over the edge into mental illness.

Around this time, Ed hitchhiked on foot across the United States from Connecticut to Alaska. He worked in a salmon cannery for awhile, then hitchhiked back to Connecticut.

“I just thought of him as a modern day hippie,” said Laura. “He played guitar and was a gentle soul. I thought of him as nomadic because he was never in one place—never homeless.”

The seeds of illness

Laura describes a trip to Boston where she bumped into Ed with her son standing in a hotel lobby. She would not see him again for nine years. “He came in and out of your life—showing up on doorsteps,” she said.

Ed eventually centered his life in New Milford where he transitioned from nomadic to homeless.

After their dad died of cancer in January of 2015, Laura felt the urge to reconnect with her brother and let him know about his father. Through social media searching, she learned Ed lived on the New Milford green and wore a brown coat. She drove from Branford to New Milford and spotted Ed in his brown coat. He looked up and recognized her but would not get in her car. She told him their bad news and left. But she decided to go back each week with a bagged lunch and a note inside for him.

Peg Molina from New Milford social services said people in the communtiy reached out to buy him clothes.

Laura wanted to help Ed more but was told by a New Milford police officer that as long as he wasn’t hurting himself or others, Ed gets to do what he wants to do.

“Without Ed’s consent we were nowhere,” she said.

Ed was clear that he did not want help. “He prided himself on his independence,” said Laura.

People in New Milford became concerned about Ed’s physical health. He had a gash on his leg that needed treatment. He also looked like he had type 2 diabetes. The people in town put together an intervention team on October 5, 2015. Amazingly, Ed agreed to go to Danbury Hospital to have his leg looked at.

He started saying Yes to help

After cleaning up his leg, they gave Ed a psych evaluation and formally diagnosed him with schizophrenia. Since he couldn’t care for himself, they had a probate hearing and Laura became co-conservator of Ed. Ed remained at Danbury Hospital psych unit until a bed opened up for him at Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) in January of 2016.

Laura and her son brought him things to CVH like a big bag of leaves to remind him of the outdoors he so loved. They took him out on day passes to Wadsworth Falls.

Ed kept saying yes to his own recovery. He tried things like yoga. And slowly got better. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) found him transitional housing in a group home in Danbury.

A year later on the journey to recovery

Ed reconnected with his family. He bought himself a bicycle to get around town. He even got his first passport to visit Laura’s son, his nephew, at college in Canada.

Ed’s transitional housing had its funding cut by the state, so he has to move. However, he feels ready to live on his own. His conservator found an efficiency in the New Milford area and they are looking for a part-time job for him.

You can’t Backpack through a Mental Hospital Or, Maybe, you can.

During college, while all my friends were backpacking through Europe or studying abroad, I spent my time in and out of psych hospitals. Sure I missed out on some terrific college experiences but I gained an education in a population who are discriminated against and marginalized. I decided I wanted to use my journalism skills and background to end stigma one story at at time. But I want to talk about what you can learn from being in a psych hospital.

You will meet all kinds of people with different diagnosis of different racial, cultural and religious backgrounds and sexualities. Your mind will be opened to what others have experienced but you are all united by mental illness. These illnesses don’t discriminate. Everybody can get them and many will over the course of a lifetime.

If you go to a place where art, writing, drama, music therapy are encouraged and funded, you will learn new tools for self-care. You will learn that creating art is a practice and you don’t have to start off good to tell your story. Your story matters in this fight to end discrimination. Find your medium and begin.

Medication is one way but not the only way. Electroshock, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, talk therapy are helpful too.

A low dose of medication is preferable, always. High doses can cause zombie-like feelings as well as health problems long-term.

You’re insurance will run out before you are ready to go home. Mental health care is expensive at the critical care level. It is important to follow closely an outpatient care plan such as taking prescribed medications regularly and seeing a therapist. These tools are less expensive than a stay in a mental hospital.

Medication can be expensive. Pharmaceutical companies have scholarships for people who can’t afford their meds. If you are low-income, look into your state’s Medicaid program. You can also buy meds by mail-order through Canada. I’ll talk about this one in a later post. There are also pharmacy discount cards like GoodRX and Walmart is a lot cheaper on some brands.

You will be able to wear your own clothes, except shoes. They will give you very comfortable slipper socks to wear. If you come in with clothes in bad repair from an episode, they will give you gowns to wear temporarily and later they’ll let you find sweats in the lost and found, a collection of things patients left behind or people donated.

You have rights. You can refuse any treatment they want to subject on you. You many want to have an advanced directive on file with treatments and medications listed you do and do not want. An advanced directive also has emergency contacts as well as who you want to visit you and who you don’t.

If your state has a legal aid clinic to help people with mental health conditions, ask them about a Patient Bill of Rights. In Connecticut, CLRP is a legal clinic that helps people from housing to discrimination.

You are allowed to keep a private journal in the hospital. If you need paper and something to write with, just ask.