Travis Bonser learned how to shoot heroin from his mother. It happened when he was 14, after his mom became too fat to tie her own arm or leave the house to pick up the dope from her dealer. It wasn't long before Bonser was an addict.
Bonser, now 30, was identified earlier this year by the Houston Police Department as one of the city's 30 craziest people. He's part of a population that, as one caseworker from the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County put it, "doesn't have anymore chances to get better. They've already lost themselves once."
The police department started the program -- called the Chronic Consumer Stabilization Initiative -- after a couple mentally ill people were shot to death by officers. Both victims had been in the mental health system for years -- one had just checked out of the Harris County Pyschiatric Center -- and hadn't got better, constantly coming into contact with officers.
"There are so many people who need services, that if folks aren't going to cooperate, they kind of get dropped," Lieutenant Mike Lee, who runs the police department's Mental Health Unit, told the Houston Press.
The program hired two caseworkers from MHMRA and assigned them to the 30 people. The goal of the program is to simply reduce contact between officers and these most serious mentally ill people in the city.
Drug addiction is common among the group, and it's a major hurdle in reaching the program's goal. According to numbers from the police department, 11 of the clients are drug addicts. But one of the caseworkers, Chris Alas, says that closer to almost all of the people in the program are drug users.
One of the women he works with, for instance, who has a history of using crack cocaine and a criminal record for selling the stuff, was getting better. Alas got her into a treatment program for people with mental illness and substance abuse problems. He took her shopping for groceries the week before Thanksgiving, and she was looking forward to cooking a meal for herself.
Then she disapperead, refusing to answer Alas's phone calls, and when he went to her apartment, there was a trash can full of beer cans outside her door. The television was on inside, but she wouldn't open the door.
"I knew she was using," Alas says. "That's one of the cases that makes you want to bang your head against the wall."
Not long before Alas started working with Bonser, Bonser spent $600 of his monthly check -- he gets survivor's benefits from his grandfather -- on a weekend crack binge with a friend. When he uses the drug, mixed with his mental illness, things often end badly.
For example, Bonser was chatting on the internet one time, pretending to be a woman -- he sometimes thinks he is one -- and agreed to meet a man for sex. When the man saw Bonser, he severly beat Bonser.
After the chronic consumer program started, Bonser agreed to check himself into a drug rehabilitation program that also treats people with mental illness. It's a big step for getting one of Houston's craziest people better.
Even for the people on the list who don't use drugs, treatment is an interesting process. You can read more about it in this week's cover story, "Houston's Craziest."
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.