Last month, the New York Times wrote a piece on the life experiences of Nakesha Williams, a woman who faced mental illness, homelessness, and an eventual death on the streets of Manhattan.
The article, using letters written by Nakesha as well as anecdotes from friends and loved ones, traces Nakesha from her time as a student at a private liberal arts college to later in life when she was often spotted sleeping on a sidewalk grate by street vendors, homeless outreach workers, and daily passers by. Many of the individuals who knew her in earlier years described losing touch with her as she slipped into mental illness, and later how she would often refuse offers to help her access shelters, mental health treatment, and other services.
A few days after the original piece was published, The Times followed up with another piece on the ethical dilemma that many service providers face in working with individuals like Nakesha. The Times interviewed Sam Tsemberis, founder of Pathways to Housing, on involuntary commitment laws, the rights of individuals experiencing mental illness, and the options that providers have when faced with someone who refuses help.
Both articles shed light on the disparities that exist for vulnerable populations, as well as the many ways in which service systems can fail individuals like Nakesha.