This is the second in a series of stories that profile people who are homeless in Turlock, their daily struggles and efforts to improve their lives.
Everyone has their ups and downs. Their good days and their bad.
When you suffer from bipolar disorder, those highs are higher. The lows, lower.
Growing up in Portland, Ore., Kellie Carter didn’t know what bipolar disorder was. She didn’t have health insurance to find out what was wrong.
But at 16, when she first tried methamphetamines, Carter felt normal for the first time.
“I could get things done,” Carter said. “I felt more human.”
From that first taste, Carter was hooked.
She never cared much for alcohol, or for marijuana. But the meth leveled out her mood swings.
So Carter used more and more, self-medicating a condition she couldn’t describe.
For eight years, Carter was addicted to meth. She had a baby at 19, then met her first husband at 22. He, too, used meth.
“It was a drug relationship,” Carter admits in retrospect.
They moved in together. Then Carter’s husband robbed some places.
Carter was in the car when it happened. She didn’t know what her husband and his friends were doing, she says.
But she was sentenced as an accomplice, sent to prison for five years and 10 months.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” Carter said.
Carter stands 5 feet, 4 inches tall, but weighed just 89 pounds when she was arrested – a side effect of the heavy meth use.
Looking back now, Carter says she was praying something like that would happen. That she would get caught using drugs and go to jail, that she’d be able to get some help at long last.
Carter got clean there. She learned about bipolar disorder, and how to manage her illness.
The stay in prison helped Carter get her life back in order. It got her into the system, signed up for mental health treatment and the prescription drugs she desperately needed.
It seemed only one addiction lasted through her half-decade stay in prison.
“After five years, 10 months, I waited 20 minutes for cigarettes,” Carter said.
A product of an environment
Not long after her prison term, Carter met her second husband – a cocaine and heroin addict. Carter says she used him as an excuse to get out of her mom’s home.
Ultimately, Carter ended up homeless for the first time, living on the river in Milwaukee, Wis.
Well, not exactly the first time. At age 13, Carter ran away from home, away from a single-mother household of alcoholism and drug addiction.
“I am my mother’s daughter,” Carter said. “I think it has contributed to most of it. I am a product of my environment.”
Carter ended up in Turlock – without husband number two – after a stay in a Phoenix, Ariz. homeless shelter. A friend of the family had passed away, and Carter decided to help out with the children.
She moved into a fifth-wheel on the family’s Turlock property, and set to work.
But four years after getting off meth, Carter found herself in one of the nation’s meth capitols, living in a fifth-wheel in a drug-infested neighborhood. And, having moved away from Oregon, her state health insurance no longer provided the prescription drugs she needed.
She soon relapsed, back on the methamphetamines in hopes of feeling normal once again.
“Turlock is not a good place for addicts,” Carter said.
Carter knew drug use wasn’t a long-term answer. But she knew she’d never be able to quit, if she kept living in that environment.
About two months ago, Carter moved out of the fifth-wheel and onto the streets, one of Turlock’s newest homeless residents.
“I’d rather be homeless and clean and sober,” Carter said.
Being homeless has been hard, Carter said. She didn’t know where to eat, where to sleep.
Carter eventually made a homeless friend who showed her the ropes, how she could camp out at the Salvation Army, find a noontime meal from the United Samaritans Foundation lunch truck, and get a warm dinner at the Turlock Gospel Mission’s Meal Ministry.
Gradually, Carter has become more and more involved in the Turlock Gospel Mission, becoming a regular at the group’s Homeless Assistance Ministry day center.
“They make me want to do better,” Carter said. “They have introduced me to the world of volunteering.”
She’s a regular volunteer at the center’s clothes closet. She helps with whatever’s needed, from passing out fliers to picking up trash.
Carter is described by others at the day center as a “mother hen” type. She’s always rounding up the others, shepherding them to where they need to be.
But, because of the drugs, the jail time, and her mental illness, Carter has had no contact with her four children, all between the ages of 14 and 20. All four were adopted out to new families.
Carter recently made contact with her 19 year old daughter, who she barely knew.
“I hadn’t seen her or talked to her since she was 2 years old,” Carter said.
A work in progress
Carter is on the road to recovery. But she admits she has some issues to address before she’s back on her feet.
First and foremost, Carter says she needs help with her bipolar disorder before she can begin to be a “responsible person,” the sort to hold down a house and a job.
Navigating the tangled web of government healthcare is no small task for homeless individuals like Carter.
She’s not eligible for Supplemental Security Income or Medicare. And to apply for medically indigent adult status, a last-resort government healthcare program, Carter needs photo identification.
Getting an ID takes money. It takes time to track down a Social Security card, and, in many cases, to obtain a birth certificate to get that card.
Carter’s case was made more difficult as an adoptee – her birth name and her adopted name don’t match, forcing a reissuing of Social Security cards.
Then, Carter had to go to Modesto for an all-day appointment to establish herself as medically indigent.
She went in April, but the first available doctor appointment was July 18. That appointment will set Carter up with a primary care physician, who can then refer her to a psychiatrist, when at long last she will be able to receive the medical care she needs.
But Carter’s medically indigent status only lasts for 60 to 90 days. It takes longer than that to go through the entire process.
Carter will actually have to renew her medically indigent status before her first appointment. And if she misses a single appointment – something easy to do as a bipolar individual – it’s back to square one.
The road is long. But Carter has a goal in sight.
One day, Carter wants to go back to school. She wants to work with mentally ill children, helping them avoid her own fate.
One day, Carter wants to own a house in the country, away from the hustle and bustle of cities.
And, one day, Carter hopes to marry her new fiancé, a fellow homeless Turlocker who is now going to trucking school.
But first, she has to get a divorce from husband number two, a process which costs money she doesn’t have and takes even more governmental wrangling.
Carter has a new helping hand though, both in the Turlock Gospel Mission and in newfound faith.
Just recently, Carter says she gave her heart to Christ.
“He’s just filled me with happiness and joy,” Carter said.
Now, even when she has bad days, she says, those days feel easier.
And maybe, one day, there will be no bad days at all.