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Digital Nomad: A Bipolar Man's Slow Slide into Homelessness in Humboldt

With his head hung low and a purple, black eye cast to the ground, Robert Stretton crossed the street outside the Humboldt County Courthouse on the cold, rainy afternoon of Dec. 20. He had just been served with a restraining order, a day after being evicted from an office on Eureka's E Street that he'd lived in since Oct. 1. As he crossed the street, he contemplated his next moves. One possibility was to travel to Big Lagoon to find a friend named Dude Whiting and camp with him for the night. The other was to pack up his belongings before the doors were locked at his office. With just five days before Christmas, Stretton, like hundreds of others in Humboldt County, would be homeless for the holiday. "Right now is the lowest point in my life," the 64 year old said that afternoon. "I'm scared to death with what my future holds." Stretton's path to Humboldt County and his current plight is a windy one, filled with many ups and downs that mirror his mental state. Diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder in 1999, Stretton's life has known little stability in any sense. He has four ex-wives, an equal number of restraining orders and three children, all of whom refuse to talk to him. According to Mental Health America, 4.4 percent of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder and people with mental illness are more likely to find themselves on the streets. Around one-third of the entire homeless population suffers from a mental illness, according to Treatment Advocacy Center. The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report found that about 130,000 people are homeless in California on any given night, an average of 33 per every 10,000 state residents. The Humboldt Housing and Homeless Coalition conducted a point in time survey in January and found 1,470 unsheltered people, making Humboldt County's homeless rate more than three times that of California and six times that of the nation. Bipolar disorder is not a mental illness that commonly manifests in a way that evokes compassion. Instead, it often presents in socially unacceptable behavior that can simply make someone seem like an asshole. In Stretton's case, the illness causes him to bring problems upon himself but he's also lived with it so long that it's an ingrained part of his personality and his sense of self. One cannot separate the…

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