HOMELESS IN EAST COUNTY: INJURED & MENTALLY ILL, JAMUL MAN FINDS HELP IS SCARCE

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This is the latest in a series of profiles of homeless persons in East County. If you know of a homeless individual willing to be interviewed, please contact editor@eastcountymagazine.org.

 

By Richard Darvas

 

March 16, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) -- Days before Bryan Brzezowski’s sixteenth birthday, he began to hear voices, he recalled in an interview with East County Magazine. Paranoid strangers warned of outward threats. “Oh, this person’s out to get you. That person just wants to kick your butt.”

 

At 25 years old, he was diagnosed as a mild schizophrenic. Shortly after he became homeless in September 2008, the depth of his mental illness manifested itself in loudening delusions, self-identity confusion and unprovoked irritation, he recalled.

According to Brzezowski, during a workup, his medical background and family history were examined at the county’s Southeast Mental Health Center. It was revealed that he suffers from hereditary schizophrenia with multiple personality disorder and depression.

 

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1981, Brzezowski was six months old when his family relocated to San Diego. Raising two sons, his father scratched out a modest living but was plagued by bouts of epilepsy. Once a month he bought groceries for his family. With the remainder of a shoestring budget, he ordered a few pizzas. The family would eat pizza for dinner the next few days or so until it ran out. “That was his way of treating us, when we didn’t have a lot,” Bryan, the youngest son, reminisces.

 

After graduating from high school, he said, he briefly attended college. When his father died suddenly of a heart attack, Brzezowski dropped out to help his older brother support his mother. For 10 years he worked odd jobs in the fast food and retail industries. (Since age 16, he says he’s worked 28 jobs.) In 2008, his mother passed away. Following a car accident later that same year, his life fell apart.

 

According to Brzezowski, since he possessed no means of transportation, he walked a 30-mile roundtrip between work and his Jamul residence for every shift. On the way to work, he was struck by a car and injured his right knee. Unable to provide for himself, he depended on his roommate until his car blew a head gasket and became inoperable. Rent went unpaid and an eviction notice was issued. Brzezowski was given 24 hours to vacate the premises because he was not listed as the apartment’s leaseholder. That day, Sept. 7, 2008, was his first on the streets.

 

For the majority of the time spent homeless, Brzezowski says he has slept in a tent among the wild foothills of Rancho San Diego, in the shadow of Mount San Miguel. Thick underbrush and a treetop canopy provide partial protection from the elements and obscure his self-described “campsite” from the general public’s view. Sheriff’s Department personnel clear transients away from hiking trails near tributaries and banks of the Sweetwater River from time to time, but the homeless eventually return.

 

“We’re keeping the area that we stay in clean and free of trash,” explains Brzezowski. “It’s not a fire hazard either.” With three others, he says that he greets hikers and other passersby when spotted because he is conscious of their likely fear. Here, his earthly belongings include pillows, blankets, a few garments, DVDs (that were given to him), a cane and a pair of crutches.

 

Whenever he grows desperate, he rummages for food in the trash. “I go by the ‘STT mark’ of the homeless. If I find food, it’s sight, touch, texture.” This strategy was borrowed from a homeless friend. “If it looks good, touch it. If it feels good, take a bite. If the texture in your mouth just does not agree, spit it out and throw it away.”

 

Today, his 29th birthday is fast approaching. Despite a portly frame, he’s lost over 40 pounds since he began living as a homeless person. His footfall is decidedly heavy; a noticeable limp encumbers every step. In large part this is the byproduct of a second car accident.

 

Walking along a road’s shoulder, a Ford F-150 plowed over Brzezowski at about 50 mph last summer. He and a group of his fellow homeless were en route to obtain drinking water. The impact caused torn anterior and posterior ligaments in his left knee, and nearly severed his ear. To date he has not received any compensation for his injuries. In order to ever walk properly again, he will require surgery that he obviously cannot afford. His lawyer has not yet reached a settlement for damages. Liability may be at issue.

 

His brother is unwilling to take him in due to past differences, he said, adding that they have been estranged for several months.  (Brezezowski's brother disputes this estrangement, and other points.  See his comment below for details.) 

 

After the initial diagnosis of mild schizophrenia, he took the antipsychotic drug Abilify into his late 20s. However, no matter the increase in dosage, it did little to ameliorate his condition. Until Brzezowski became homeless, this was the only drug regimen he was ever prescribed to address schizophrenia, he said.

 

An already untrustworthy mind worsened as months accumulated on the street. “I had spells where I wasn’t me; I was somebody else. And I wouldn’t respond if somebody were to call my name.” Sensing that his fantasies were beginning to outpace reality, he recycled cans until he had enough money for bus fare to visit the one of the county’s mental health centers. There he discovered his mother was previously treated for schizophrenia. Doctors ordered a cocktail of psychotropic drugs including haloperidol, benztropine, Celexa, Prozac and others. These helped, but he ran out after a few short months. The last time he took meds was February 2009.

 

“I self-medicate now,” he said.  He claims that nicotine and caffeine help him manage schizophrenia’s symptoms, keeping the ghosts at bay. In addition to anecdotal evidence, research has widely supported this assertion—at least in terms of nicotine and its influence on temporary cognitive performance.

 

Brzezowski’s day-to-day routine can be summarized as follows. In the morning, he reads a few pages in a book before departing for a nearby grocery store. Behind a strip mall, he visits a recycling center where he cashes in bottles and cans he collected the previous night. Next stop is the public library. There he spends hours surfing the internet, interacting with online friends from London to Belgium. Once finished, he starts to wend his way back toward the campsite.

 

“If I have any money in my pocket from cashing in my recycling, I go inside Albertsons and I buy a pint of chocolate milk,” he explained. “I go to the discount bakery rack and I pretty much look for anything that looks like it might be good. Usually it’s anywhere between 99 cents to a $1.99.” Typically he buys a can of tuna, to which he adds mayonnaise from a packet taken from a fast food restaurant. On the rare occasion he can afford to splurge or there’s a sale, he gets a couple cans of Chef Boyardee.

 

After hearing rumors within the homeless community that one could receive government assistance due to mental illness, he sought out the opinion of an EMT employed by the Sheriff’s Department. This person confirmed that this was indeed a viable option. On his referral, Brzezowski returned to Southeast Mental Health Center, where he was originally diagnosed.

 

“They told me if I wanted a check, I’d have to get into an outpatient program,” he remembers. Subsequently, he was advised he needed authorization from a mental health care provider certified by San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency. A staff member suggested he enroll in a program offered at an El Cajon clinic.

 

“For like three months after that, every time I tried to…sign up for their outpatient program, the person who I was supposed to contact wasn’t there,” he complains. Frequently he phoned, but he insists each time he was transferred to voicemail because the person he needed to speak with was unavailable. “I’m calling from a pay phone. If I can’t talk to a person, in person or over the phone, why do I want to leave a message?” After a number of failed attempts, he quit altogether.

 

In terms of homeless outreach in East County, Brzezowski explains that help is scarce. A couple exceptions exist, however. Goodwill, for instance, lays unsold clothing on top of its dumpster for the benefit of the homeless. Crisis House, an El Cajon-based social services agency, furnishes Brzezowski with a full bag of groceries at least twice a year.

 

Remarkably, given his circumstances, Brzezowski is an articulate speaker. After a few minutes it becomes apparent to the listener that his mind functions swiftly. In fact, he has a penchant for inordinate specificity with dates, times and other numbers.

 

Free from the burden of his psychoses, he could potentially excel in any number of vocations.
 

Comments

This is a sad life, the one

This is a sad life, the one he was forced to live. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful human beings are, because they can build a life out of nothing. This should be a lesson to us all.
Josiah Charley - Sales Tester

I sometimes sit in front of

I sometimes sit in front of the computer and ask myself where did such people go wrong to end up like this and what did they do wrong to be treated like this. I know for sure that only in Washington drug rehab centers will help these people to get their lives back or if they were like this, then to find a meaning in life, a job a career.

facts about homelessness today

 

 

What’s getting lost amid discussion on this story is the bigger picture of the growing number of homeless people in America and in San Diego County.

 

Here are some facts from the National Coalition for the Homeless:

26% of homeless people in America are mentally ill

40% of America’s homeless men are veterans who have served in the U.S. armed forces.
Families with children comprise 23% of the homeless population – and this is the fastest growing segment
 

About one-third of all homeless people in America are women
 

25% of homeless mothers have been physically abused
 

It’s also worth nothing that not a single East County city provides a shelter for the homeless, nor does the County have any homeless shelter in East County. Our region ranks behind many other major population centers when it comes to helping the homeless.
 

California used to offer far more mental health services to keep people off the streets, but those were largely done away with when Reagan was Governor and have been further slashed during the current budget crisis. 

In responce to AND.

You try to deal with the stress I live with. And as for a scam... Why don't you find me and say that to my face. I can prove that I am NOT a person who scams people.

Author Response

Bryan: Perhaps you misread the passage regarding the accident involving an F-150, as no geographic location was cited. No misquote occurred. Nonetheless, thank you for granting the interview on this very important topic. Your feedback is also appreciated.

The aim of this series is to spotlight homeless persons through first-person accounts. While we strive to preserve the truth, these types of stories can be problematic for media because peoples’ perceptions and memories can sometimes be conflicting. Interviewees may even distort the truth. This article was not contemplated as a piece of investigative journalism, but rather a profile based on an interview with the homeless. It is an ongoing platform for the homeless to relay their unfiltered stories. On the other hand, we are very willing to include readers’ views here as well, and to promptly correct any provable inaccuracies.

Richard Darvas

Puh-Leeze

So let me get this straight. People are out of work, and this guy had 30+ jobs? Instead of camping out in front of the office that can help get him on his feet, he's playing around on the TAXPAYERS DIME at the library?



You have got to be joking! I see this kind of waste of time panhandling near target, and every other strip mall in the area. This guy seems like an attention grabbing JOKE! Not to mention a wanna-be con-artist. I mean really he was hit by a truck doing 50 and no settlement? I tend to believe the brother on that one.



Then there's the brother. He writes a rebuttal and the bum's response??? "My brother doesn't like me wa-wa-wa..."



Clearly, this article is the perfect reason not to donate clothes to goodwill, or give money to any "homeless outreach." The fools milking the system will turn around and blame you for THEIR PROBLEMS!

AND

I just noticed this. Bryan says the brother won't help him, but the brother says Bryan tried to get a restraining order with MY TAX DOLLARS??? Why is it that those that work hard are over taxed to pay for LOSERS to sit on their butts all day surfing the web and pulling scams???

rules reminder

Reminder - Our rules encourage civil discussions, but name calling and personal insults are not allowed.  We welcome all opinions, but please be courteous to others on this board. 

I was missquoted.

I was not hit by the F-150 while living in Jamul. I was Hit by the F-150 on July 21st,2009 And another thing... My brother has a bias against me telling me on more than one occation that I have turned my on the family. So his comments are in his opinion. Not the base of everything.

Wow, This is great fiction.

Dear Editor,



There are so many falsities to this "article" it's really not even funny. How Mr. Darvas would expect to pass as anything close to a journalist seems at least at first glance to be laughable.



I'll try to correct as much of this tripe as possible:

1) Our father did have Epilepsy... not "bouts" he had it since birth, mildly controlled by heavy doses of medication. The "modest living" he "scratched out" is called social security, getting paid once a month- hence shopping once a month.



2) He never, I repeat NEVER financially supported our mother. Her husband,
(from her third marriage) in Minnasota took care of her just fine.



3) Mom died 07/23/06. NOT in 2008.



4) As far as outreach, how about contacting the folks at Set Free Ministries, and ask why when they were helping him with getting SSI and medications in order, he decided he no longer wanted help -and left their program.



5) "His brother is unwilling to take him in due to past differences. They have been estranged for several months." How was this information verified, because no one asked me. I have had the same cell number for years, in fact when he trumped up a complaint of "cyber stalking" and the taxpayers paid for a TRO, and subpoena service the Deputy called my cell to meet me for service. (I would be VERY careful not to defame my character for the sake of readership.)

NOT TO MENTION, where do you think he lived between September 1999, and the time he moved in with the guy in Jamul? (9 years)



6) "Walking along a road’s shoulder, a Ford F-150 plowed over Brzezowski at about 50 mph last summer." Really? The freedom of information act would allow you access to the report on this. Try 25mph (the street's limit) the sole companion traveling with Bryan, the driver and the police report all state Bryan ran out into the road from behind some bushes and was hit. (If I am not mistaken that was 07/21/09.)



7) He was "crashing" at a friends trailer in Jamul, and his friend told him to leave in order to avoid being evicted based on Bryan's violent outbursts.



What was closer to the truth in Mr. Darvas fictional essay you ask? Bryan has had a lot of jobs. From the age of 16 to point of homelessness, I would put the number at closer to 35.



As we approach my kid brother's birthday I figured I would see if I could find out how he was doing. Oh well. I guess he is the same as the day he left.



Tony Brzezowski

Tony - Thank you for writing

Tony - Thank you for writing to correct some points in your brother's story.  While we noted in several places that the story was based on your brother's first-hand account of his experiences, I have added more clarifying points to indicate that these are his perceptions.  Other major media outlets in our region have done similar stories and series on homeless people based primarily on first-hand accounts; the alternative would be to ignore the voices of the homeless, however truthful or distorted their perceptions of reality may be. 

 

Bryan, like many homeless people who feel alienated from family, did not provide names of any of his relatives.  So there was no way for our writer to contact you.   Medical confidentiality laws prevent medical providers or counselors from speaking about a homeless patient (or any other patient)'s medical records or condition.

 

Law enforcement records through San Diego's sheriff are generally not released more than 30 days after an incident. We have requested records through public records requests before on old cases and had them denied by the Sheriff's office, unfortunately.

 

Rest assured that we do not wish to defame anyone, and I am adding a note into the story above stating that you dispute your brother's statement on the estrangement, and readers will also see your full post below.

Our Government

And the same government who now allows our mentally ill, excuse me mentally challenged, to roam the streets homeless now wants to take over all our health care. I am sure that will work out well!