Opinion: My daughter died living on the streets. Her mental illness kept her from accepting help.

By https://www.sandiegopsychiatricsociety.org/author
August 18, 2023

The San Diego Union Tribune

By Lynn Solorzano

July 31, 2023

Lynn Solorzano sits with a portrait of her daughter in the garden she made in her memory at her home in Escondido on Friday, July 28, 2023. (Jessica Parga/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

We lost our daughter Ashley due to mental illness, homelessness and drug use. This is her story.

Ashley was born and raised in San Diego. She was fiercely independent, rebellious, impulsive and moody. She didn’t listen to anyone and marched to the beat of her own drum. Unfortunately, she also suffered from mental illness.

Against our wishes, she left home at age 17 with only a tote bag of clothes and her cellphone. Having nowhere to go, she went to live on the streets of San Diego. We were terrified. She was a beautiful, petite young girl with no street smarts. We felt helpless as Ashley spent the last years of her young life homeless — she didn’t want help.

Before she left home, we were able to get her into a county-sponsored program called Pathways Catalyst. This program provided her temporary housing, bus passes, help applying for social services and rehab. However, she didn’t accept much of this help. She once had a studio in Downtown San Diego, but psychosis took hold and she returned to the streets.

Soon, she stopped taking her prescribed medications (which helped keep her balanced) and began using illicit drugs. This dangerous behavior sometimes led her to experience drug-induced psychosis, often for months at a time.

Tragically, on Feb. 24, 2021, at age 25, she was killed when she was hit by a car while attempting to cross the freeway during another terrible psychotic episode.

Our love for Ashley was unconditional, and we never stopped trying to save her from her poor choices. Ashley’s story is much like many other individuals who are young, independent and have their own ideas about how to make a life for themselves — away from their families and any support that is offered. Mental illness can make it nearly impossible for a person to make good decisions or know what’s best for them.

Ashley slipped out of the mental health care system and psychiatric facilities multiple times because she was able to demonstrate (if only for a short while) she was stable and able to care for herself, even though she had a long, documented psychiatric history which indicated otherwise. Her dad and I were very close to our last (and best) resort, which was to obtain conservatorship of her. Our hope was that she could get well and lead a productive, happy life. It was not to be — the system failed her.

During this tumultuous journey, we were told several times by psychiatrists that she wasn’t “gravely disabled enough.” We were advised by one private hospital that no doctor would sign off on a conservatorship and by another that the doctor simply didn’t have time to review her file. In her last hospital stay, doctors discharged her within 24 hours during a 72-hour hold for 5150, during which individuals are held against their will while doctors evaluate their mental status. The admitting physician diagnosed her with drug-induced psychosis. She was given a sedative and quickly released the next day; she wasn’t even treated! Her fatal accident occurred 10 days later.

Our mental health system is severely flawed. Countless loopholes and requirements for people who need services prevent them from getting help. People fall through the cracks. Government funds are allocated to hundreds of programs, but they aren’t helping enough people; untreated individuals continue to suffer. Additionally, once someone is released from the mental hospital or jail, there often isn’t a transitional program for additional support or treatment. Hospitals and jails have revolving doors. People are left to their own devices; some don’t even realize they need help. Often, the ones who need the most help are left to die on the streets (like my daughter).

As a preteen, Ashley was obsessed with her looks and the clothes she wore. However, once she became homeless, her clothes were often lost, stolen or dirty. When we brought her clothes, her eyes would light up. She loved them, even if they were gently worn.

In January 2022, I created a nonprofit called Ashley’s Hope. Our organization provides clothing to the homeless. All people, no matter their situation, need to be treated with love, kindness and dignity and respect — that is our hope. That was Ashley’s hope.

I miss Ashley with all my heart and soul. Her lifelong struggle with mental illness, and subsequent homelessness, was not in vain. Her story spreads awareness and now helps support those who are currently homeless as well as the people who are rebuilding their lives — through Ashley’s Hope.


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