Houston's Craziest

In a one-of-a-kind short list, HPD names the 30 most troubled mentally ill in the city.

"I can't go back there because of all the aggression I had toward others," Bailey says.

But since February, Bailey's hospitalizations and contact with police officers have dropped to a total of three encounters. During the six months before the program started, he had 12 offense reports with the police department and six emergency detention orders, according to numbers from the police. Back then, Bailey says, his life was "[moving] from house to house to house to house to house, hospitalization after hospitalization after hospitalization, suicide attempt, suicide attempt, suicide attempt, suicide attempt, suicide attempt."

"We've had our battles, and I've told him if he does something wrong, he'll go to jail," Maire says. "But he knows I don't want him to go to jail. We're working on his aggression, because I believe Jimmy can recover. He can hold a steady job."

Chris Alas (center), one of two caseworkers hired to help the 30 craziest people in Houston, talks to client Tashonya Williams (left) and Chris Howell (right), a counselor at the Inner Wisdom day program.
Chris Curry
Chris Alas (center), one of two caseworkers hired to help the 30 craziest people in Houston, talks to client Tashonya Williams (left) and Chris Howell (right), a counselor at the Inner Wisdom day program.

The pilot phase of the program officially ended in August, and while it hasn't received a final approval, or funding, it has enough money to run until July, but nothing is certain after that. Lee plans to go before City Council and ask for more money, presenting the six-month results as evidence that the program has worked.

And he has the evidence. For instance, hospitalizations have decreased by 76 percent for people on the program, and police contact has decreased by 77 percent. More than half the clients aren't going to the Harris County Psychiatric Center as much.

"Something like this has never been attempted. We have a small portion of chronic mentally ill people who are creating the vast majority of the crisis calls for police," Lee says. "We would prefer these people have a caseworker to call when they're in crisis and in need of services, whatever it is that would have them calling the police instead. It's almost like babysitting, because some of them just need someone there and that's fine. Whatever magic works."

But things aren't looking too good for the program. Police Chief Harold Hurtt, according to Lee, supported most mental health programs, but he has resigned, effective at year's end. Mayor-elect Annise Parker has made it clear that it will be difficult for the police department to get any new programs funded.

"It's tougher for us, to convince the naysayers," Lee says of the mental health unit. "But if people will just think about it, and the money this will actually save, I don't see how they could say no."

On a sunny afternoon in November, Bailey stood in the living room of a crumbling house in south Houston not far from downtown. He hadn't lived there long, but caseworker Maire wanted him to move. The owner of this house, who charged Bailey most of his monthly income to live there, didn't lock up patients' medications, and beds were nearly stacked on top of each other. Residents used a garden hose attached to the faucet in the bathtub to shower.

Bailey, who had already all but run away from the house, returned with Maire to pack up his things and move, but he couldn't find his best pair of pants, slacks he had bought on his own, and a backpack he used to carry around his medications and a few personal belongings. He rifled through drawers and piles of clothes, not far from the elderly man with one leg who was sleeping in Bailey's bed. He couldn't find his pants or backpack, and he yelled at the house's owner.

"They're not here, not here, not here,not here," Bailey told her.

"Jimmy, you're always losing things," the owner told him. "You lost your pants."

Bailey looked like he was about to explode in rage. He stood in the living room, arms crossed in a tight grip, swaying back and forth.

"Jimmy, come on, we can buy you a new pair of pants," Maire said, walking toward the door.

"Yes ma'am," Bailey said and followed her out.
_____________________

The audio from the 911 call is grainy.

"This man's got a knife up here and going to cut me and I'm his momma and I want him to go to jail," the woman tells the dispatcher. "I want him to go. Please come get him before he kills me."

"Is that your husband or your boyfriend?" the dispatcher asks.

"That's my son."

"And how old is your son?"

"He's 30 years old. Thirty-one, he's 31," the woman says.

"And he has a knife?"

"Yes."

"And he's still there?" the dispatcher asks.

"He's probably in the trash."

"Is he black, white, Hispanic or Asian?" It's the dispatcher's last question.

"Please just send the law here, please just hurry up!"

The call is from July 21, 2007, in south Houston, not far from Bailey's group home. Steven Guillory, 31, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, was inside his mother's house, threatening her with a butcher knife when she made the 911 call. According to police, officers arrived to find Guillory in the front yard with a steel pipe, which he then used to bash police cars.

"He was very chronic, had been in contact with HPD a number of times," Lee says. "He had just gotten out of [the Harris County Psychiatric Center], and that weekend, Mom had gone back and tried to get him in again, but they just told her that if the situation got bad enough, she should call 911, which she did."

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