A Duluth woman’s path to homelessness

How did you get here?

The Duluth News Tribune provided an answer for one homeless person in the Northland — Roberta Kriegh, whose been homeless for two years since the dog she depended on for her emotional support died.

“I lost her right before I became homeless,” Kriegh, 37, tells the News Tribune. “She was my everything. I’ve just kind of been drifting ever since.”

At the time of her and her boyfriend’s interview with the paper, they had pitched a tent in the tower of a building at Leif Erikson park, but a cop has since sent them on their way to… where?

How did she get there? It starts with a mental illness.

She also has a criminal record covering 18 years, although it is not extensive. In recent years, it mostly has been misdemeanors for disorderly conduct. She went to prison in 2002 and was released in 2003.

Her mental illness diagnoses include a form of bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder, Kriegh said. Also, “I have communication issues and anger — I don’t know, it’s not really anger, but I’m kind of scary, I guess.”

She doesn’t look scary. At just over 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighing 110 pounds, Kriegh has been diagnosed as underweight. Her doctor at Duluth Family Medicine Clinic gave her a “food prescription,” she said, but adding pounds seems to be a losing cause. She eats a couple of meals a day — at CHUM, at the Damiano Center or at Union Gospel Mission. Clothed in several layers, she walks to all of those places, and to the library, where she can charge up electronic devices and sit quietly. She walks back and forth to wherever her tent is. One day, when she had a pedometer, it showed she walked eight miles.

She’s had social workers to help but she turned away the last one who approached her at the park. She says she just can’t deal with people.

“It really sucks being homeless,” she said. “But we are very appreciative to have places like the Damiano, CHUM, Union Gospel Mission that help us out and will give us a place to stay and do provide us a meal or snacks. … Without them, we would be super lost.”

It’s hard to see how she’s not already super lost, or what the path is for her to get the help and a home she needs.

  • Guest

    THIS has already been solved. With state mental hospitals and poor farms.

    Closing these institutions and leaving folks to be without a warm place in winter was NOT a kinder solution.

    • The Resistance

      My paternal grandmother was in a state mental institution for over 15 years. She may have been out of sight, but her situation was definitely not “already solved”. Perhaps your personal experiences with homelessness and mental illness have been different from mine.

      I think the solutions are more complex, including affordable access to health care, access to independent housing and shelters, universal substance abuse treatment, increased income, reducing dependence on armed law enforcement as a first response to mental illness.

      The most important element is for all of us to put consistent pressure on our elected officials to make this a national priority.

      • Guest

        I am not saying they were as good as they could have been.

        MUCH improvement was needed.

        However, putting folks on the street, headed for jail, is society abandoning those who need care. It was not the kindest option.

        • The Resistance

          Then don’t say it has “already been solved.” That doesn’t help advance real solutions. It enables denial of the problem, which makes the problem worse.

          • Guest

            OK, how about homelessness has been solved in the past, but we choose against those solutions by using “least restrictive setting” to mean under a bridge.

          • The Resistance

            Sorry. I’m agreeing to disagree. I don’t think it was ever solved in the past. Full stop. But, I’m not really interested in that argument as it’s really a distraction from discussing what needs to happen to mitigate it in the future.

          • RBHolb

            Too damned easy:

            “Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.
            “Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

    • Kassie

      First, we still have state mental hospitals. They are for housing people who are extremely disabled by their mental illness and are danger to themselves or others, not people with treatable and get along pretty well.

      And yes, not locking folks like this woman up is the kinder solution. Ask her if she would prefer to have freedom or be locked up every day and heavily drugged. You will find, just like everyone else, she values her freedom.

      What this woman needs is an affordable apartment, and from the sounds of it, another support animal. Throw some SNAP in for food, a bus pass, and a monthly stipend that is enough to cover basic necessities and the affordable rent, and we have a woman who is no longer homeless, no longer underweight, and probably doing a lot better with her mental health. The solutions are often easy, they just cost money.

      • Guest

        Ask those running the jails about the mental illness on the street.