THE SOURCE: “Down and Out in Chicago” by T. M. Luhrmann, in Raritan, Winter 2010.
In Chicago, a seven-year wait confronts poor people hoping to move from homeless shelters to longer-term subsidized housing. Those judged psychotic, however, can make the move in only two weeks. Yet there are very few takers.
Stanford anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann tried to get behind the wall of mental illness to understand this mystery. She planted herself in the homeless shelters and drop-in centers of a tiny, two-to-three-block area with probably “the densest concentration of persons with serious psychotic disorder in the entire state of Illinois.” The women she met refused to get the paperwork signed certifying their diagnosis of a psychotic disorder. One woman, Zaney, insisted she was not crazy despite the fact that she heard “angry but nonexistent” voices. When Luhrmann suggested several times that she just “pretend” to be crazy in order to get an apart ment, Zaney would shake her head. “I’m not that kind of person,” she’d say.
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