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By Paul Gionfriddo

There are half a million homeless people with serious mental illnesses in desperate need of help yet underserved or ignored by our health and social-service systems. That number can seem overwhelming, but for me, it’s all about one person: my son Tim.

Tomorrow is Tim’s 30th birthday, and I wish I could spend it with him. But I don’t know where he is, so this year I’ll have to settle for the memories of his childhood birthdays. Tim was diagnosed with schizophrenia over two decades ago, and has been homeless on the streets of San Francisco for the last 10. I am a former state legislator, a former mayor, a CEO of a national organization…and even I couldn’t prevent it. Because people with mental illness become homeless as a result not of bad choices but of bad public policy.

There are many differences between me and Tim…I’m in my 60s, he’s half my age. I’m 5’9”, he can appear towering at 6’ 5”. I’ve got graying hair, his hair is dark. I’m white, he’s black. But all of those difference don’t really matter…the only reason Tim is homeless and I’m not is because he has a mental illness. That’s it. Our mental health system has failed him and countless others, and it’s time to change that.

So I can’t turn back time. I can’t spend his 30th birthday with my son. I will pray as I do every day that he is safe and that one day we can get him the help he so desperately needs. Until then, I’m going to keep fighting just like Tim does every day. I’m going to fight to change our mental health care system, to work to get people the help they need when they need it, and to get this country talking and addressing mental illness before Stage 4. I will continue to fight for Tim and for the millions like him affected by mental and substance use conditions who have not had a voice for far too long.

Check out this new short video about Tim and his birthday. Help us celebrate Tim by forwarding it on to your friends and family and starting a conversation about mental health. Finally, consider helping Mental Health America continue our #B4Stage4 campaign by making a donation. It’s time we all come together and fight for people like Tim.

Es dolan (not verified)

Tue, 03/17/2015 - 23:45

My own experiences with my genetics, summarized succinctly. Depression, schitzophrenia, bipolar disorders have and still are, with some new awareness, stigmatized diseases. Those afflicted turn to any form of self medication to relieve pain, and the downward spiral to joblessness and homelessness.

Let's make mental health and illness a priority. I suspect we can address substance abuse in a whole new direction.

Elizabeth Scullin Dolan

Antonio H Matier (not verified)

Tue, 06/16/2015 - 16:50

Hello Tim,

I am the father of a great young man that was a happy go lucky kinda kid all of his life. Through the introduction to son has develop schizophrenia and has lived on and off the streets for the last 5 years of his life here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I can't express the heart breaking pain I feel as a parent...its like someone just stabbed me dead center in my heart.

My son has two beautiful children that prior to the drug addiction he was an outstanding, loving caring father . I am in great hopes that my son can recover to some degree if not fully! He is in somewhat of a denial state concerning his illness and has not truly grasp his mind around what he is dealing with. I pray daily that somehow someway God will make this right.

Keep up the fight and awareness regarding mental illness...its drastically needed!


Antonio H. Matier