Voices Carry


Location Carroll Gardens

Rent $200 (subsidized housing for people with mental illness)

Square feet 840 (one floor of four-unit building)

Occupant Daniel Frey (peer advocate, Baltic Street Mental Health Board, Inc.; editor in chief, New York City Voices)

So. I was expecting a cabinet to come today and it didn’t. Should I call the Better Business Bureau? I’ve been waiting a month. Every time I pass the shop, I stop by and talk to the owner. When will he deliver? I have a problem with papers. I bought the bookshelf to organize the papers. Being in the mental health field, they just add up—a flyer for this, a flyer for that. I have a visitor once a month who comes, a housing specialist. She goes over your goals. One of my goals is to maintain a clean house. Another one is to buy new furniture, beautify the house.

The nonprofit Baltic Street Mental Health Board pays most of your rent? Thirty percent of one’s income is the norm for housing for people with mental illness. The market rent on this apartment is in the $800 range. Baltic Street helps people recovering from mental illness.

I heard they find people jobs, apartments, sign the leases if the landlord prefers. Ninety-five percent of the staff, like you, are now or were mental health care recipients. How did you come to Baltic? I was born in ’76 and raised in the Van Cortlandt section of the Bronx and, you know, my main concern living there, the neighborhood seemed to be going downhill. I guess the young people were getting a little more wild. My father was a taxicab driver. My mother is and was a nurse. She is from Israel. It was in late high school [Bronx Science], early college [Lehman], when the trouble started. I started to live with my father. I wanted to take a break from my mom. I thought a new situation would be good for me, a different personality. I started to have arguments with my father. I’d spend the whole day without leaving the house, with the blinds drawn. Occasionally, I would sneak a peak through the blinds and see the people walking by. I felt all these people were in on it. I felt I would be kidnapped, murdered. I woke up one morning, I heard voices coming from the radio, talking to me. The radio announcers, instead of talking about the programs, were talking about me. I heard more and more voices chanting. They were going to find me. I would walk very slowly from place to place, taking baby steps. I believed the slower I moved, the harder it would be for the voices to find me. I also would just stop in my tracks and take very deep breaths because I believed I was inhaling and exhaling evil spirits. So my father thought a trip to the hospital would be a good idea. I was immediately put in a room with a big window, something that couldn’t break. They gave me medication to calm me down—Risperdal. The medication silenced the voices but replaced them with a feeling of total lethargy. So after they discharged me, I went off the pills against my parents’ wishes. By this time, I was already diagnosed with schizophrenia. I was back at Montefiore. I negotiated a lower dose of Risperdal with my psychiatrist. The voices disappeared and, this time, I had more energy. Something good happened. My soon-to-be mentor, the late, great Ken Steele, was on TV—the founder of Voices. My father called him up and described my situation to him. Ken Steele told me in his rich, deep voice that I’ve got to stay on the medication or else I’ll just become a revolving-door patient like he was for 30 years. I joined the Baltic Street HomeWorks program. I got an apartment on Gun Hill Road. I transferred here because I wanted to be closer to Manhattan.

The Gowanus Expressway is right outside your window—all this continuous movement. 24-7. Let me think of something romantic to say about this. The nauseous gases—it’s adventurous—if I open a window, I could die. Usually, of course, at night, there are these mesmerizing white lights from the headlights and I know every car contains a human being and when a thousand cars go by, it’s a thousand human beings with a story, just like mine.