Note: This blog is based upon real events. In this case, John Chadwick ended his life after being separated from his pets. The system failed John. Please read my post. If you agree (or even if you don’t), please consider signing Dee Bonett’s (John’s best friend) petition to prevent future tragedies:
John was homeless, and had been staying in a bed & breakfast. He had been offered accommodation in a council flat (apartment) which would have ended his homelessness.
As a condition of moving into the flat, John would have to give up his pets. However, after battling mental illness, alcoholism and homelessness, John had reach the tipping point between life and death, and could no longer endure the pain. And death appeared to be the best option.
On March 16th, the anniversary of his mother’s death, John sent a final text message to his friends. He was later found dead from an overdose of prescription drugs and alcohol.
So what caused John’s death? Was it separation from his pets, or were there other factors?
There are several issues that contributed towards John’s death:
- Rough sleeping (homelessness)
- Mental illness
- Separation from his pets
- The anniversary of his mother’s death
Those working to end homelessness practice (or should practice) a trauma-informed approach to working with their clients. This means their clients should not have to re-live traumatic events in their life, nor should they have to endure future trauma. Any one of John’s events are traumatic. Now when you add them together, did John ever stand a chance? How would you or I fare in a similar situation?
As John was preparing to end homelessness, he was haunted by “the ghosts of trauma past”, in his case, mental illness, alcoholism and the loss of his mother. In addition, he now had to stare directly into “the ghosts of trauma future” with the imminent separation from his pets. Ultimately, John’s coping mechanism was his own death (not because he wanted to die; but because it was the only way to stop his pain and suffering).
John’s tragedy raises the question that I am frequently asked: should the homeless be allowed to own pets? My answer is a resounding yes!
I have found that the homeless take care of their pets exceptionally well, usually better than non-homeless. This reason is simple: their pet will unconditionally love them, even when they feel no one else does. Further proof of their bond is when homeless pet owners feed their pets first, even if they themselves go hungry.
The unbreakable bond between pets and their homeless owners is a reason why I assist whenever possible. One of my clients had a three-legged service dog to alert her of an imminent strokes or seizure. I also arranged a wedding, then permanent housing for a homeless couple and their dog, Princess. In Boston, Dan Rea, host of Nightside with Dan Rea, used the reach of WBZ Newsradio 1030 (heard in 38 states and Canada) to help me save the life of Norman the Cat. Even my own pet, Top Cat, was rescued from the streets of Tampa at 8-weeks of age. So I take the welfare of animals (and their human keepers) very seriously.
What is the answer? Can similar tragedies be prevented? I think so. John would have been an excellent candidate for Housing First. This approach provides permanent supportive housing with wrap-around services, such as counselling for mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as life-skills assistance).
The system failed John. He lived, homeless, at the intersection of alcoholism, depression and anxiety. Perhaps with earlier interventions, he could have been saved. The system must be user-friendly. And until this occurs, those most in need will continue to suffer while they navigate a maze of service providers, each with different missions. There needs to be unity and coordination, with providers working towards a common goal of ending homelessness (with housing being the only known cure). And finally, accommodations for the homeless should embrace those with pets. Why not offer landlords slightly increased rents or security deposits an an incentive to accommodate pets?
In closing, we need to break the “Homeless Circle of Life”, and help those most vulnerable to escape from the clutches of homelessness, mental illness, addictions and jail. Once meaningful solutions are available, and easier to navigate, then tragedies such as the suicide of John Chadwick can be prevented.