On the surface Margaret is not the sort of person most of us would want to befriend. Humans come in a variety of forms. We are each a result of nature and nurture and it is in our best interests to understand that better which might result in a better world.
Denise Davy a reporter with the Hamilton Spectator was interested in homelessness. She stumbled on Margaret and decided she would be worth studying. She was able to contact Margaret Jacobson who normally would not open up to strangers. But given a chance to tell her story Margaret took advantage, possibly as Denise suggests she wanted to make sure others did not live as she did.
Denise was able with permission to have access to an immense storage of information. including medical reports, police reports and personal notes. She interviewed relatives, medical staff and many personal acquaintances. At one point Denise was told the Spectator would not cover the story on Margaret, but after a change of heart her story got a strong response.
Margaret was born in the Caribbean. Her father was a stern missionary and expressed disappointment that his first child, Margaret was not a boy. He was always quoting the Bible, expecting better behavior from his children. Despite her father's beliefs, for her early years Margaret took religion very seriously,
She was given electric shock treatment at age 15 in Antigua. Her mother thought the problem was lack of faith although she had been a model daughter and displayed an intense religiosity.
By age 16 Margaret displayed sexual behavior by exposing herself to others including her father. She may have been promiscuous and/or exploited.
The family traveled around the Caribbean and North America while Margaret got left in Hamilton, Ontario. She spent time in mental health hospitals, but was frequently discharged to boarding houses that were usually poorly supervised. Between 1963 and 1977 Canadian psychiatric capacity went from 3.7 people per thousand to 1.0 as governments adjusted their budgets.
From 1976 to 1983, information on Margaret was almost non existent. In 1983 she was found eating garbage, covered in feces and lice at age 39.
A lot of problems compounded. Underlying schizophrenia diagnosed late, difficult parents, unhappy events (deaths, etc), poor housing options, poor budgeting, lack of support at critical time. For a brief time she lived with Bob Dixon, but his landlord forced Bob to kick Margaret out or be kicked out himself. Much of her behavior was provocative including exposure, masturbation, smoking, urinating where she was--period blood not cleaned up.
Margaret died on December 6, 1995. A request for a death inquest was rejected. She had a child in 1976, but was forced to give it up. Years later her son, renamed Jeremy whose wife had traced his mother back to Margaret. and wanted to know more. Denise was reluctant, but complied. Jeremy recognized she had an oppressive father . He feared he might also get schizophrenia and he did, but was better prepared. The death anniversary for Margaret was held at the same time as a memorial for the Montreal Massacre. She is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Burlington Ontario Section 10, Row 39 and grave 8.
The author brings in history of mental health treatment and alternatives suggesting better ways to handle. Denise recounted that Rosemary Kennedy had been lobotomized under orders of her father with tragic unintended results.
Homelessness costs society in ways that could be turned around. Emergency services, communicable diseases, petty crime and perhaps most of all wasted human potential.
At the end of the book are suggestions on how you might help make the lives of some homeless a little bit easier.
Diagnosis as early as practical. Better trained boarding house supervisors, support for maintaining medication, addiction counseling, more serious affordable housing policies, budgeting counseling and more. Women are subject to sexual exploitation and should be given more shelter space.
Jack Layton said "As mass homelessness has become the new reality in Canada starting in the 1990"s some tried to pin the blame on the homeless themselves." Encampments have become common and all too close to where I live. About three blocks away along a parkway I had gotten to love walking on my way downtown. A proposal to build tiny homes in the area has neighbors outraged. Their anger and fear are really about the encampments and I share much of the fear, but the tiny homes really are a tiny, but significant improvement.
Malcolm Gladwell pointed out that homelessness is expensive. Emergency services and shelters are costly. Panhandling is expensive; Courts and jails are tied up with petty crimes like shoplifting, trespassing and public urination. The real tragedy is lives wasted.
Denise provides some examples of how efforts to cut homelessness involving housing and supportive mental health services have improved the outlook for society. One was from Finland and another from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Also in Trieste, Italy.
Although shelters generally have to turn people away, many of the homeless reject them, a fact that mystifies many. Some reject because of confined spaces, loud noises, , strict rules, fear of violence, bedding, pets not allowed and others just give up the effort.
The basic problem is society's attitude. Most of us feel life is a struggle and we can only spare so much sympathy (besides there are plenty of distractions). We hope somebody else will deal with the mess. The government increasingly relies on volunteers to help them keep down taxes. Powerful people feel the government does too much while many suffer and opportunities are lost.