National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Natalie on the Street

By Ann Nietzke

Reviewed by members of NAMI's Literature Committee

In Natalie on the Street, Ann Nietzke provides a portrait of homeless life on the street through her direct experience with a woman she has labeled Natalie. Natalie lived across the street from Nietzke apartment. The book is written in the form of a journal that spans about a month and a half in November and December in central Los Angeles. Nietzke creates a relationship with Natalie, who has a mental illness, most likely schizophrenia. Through Nietzke’s daily accounts, readers see the stark realities of homelessness: the struggle for food, clothing, retaining possessions, and the struggle for personal safety. In Natalie’s case and many others like hers, the life struggle includes her gender, her age, and the distortion of delusions and hallucinations from her untreated mental illness.

This book is disturbing at times, which is where its value lies. Homelessness is ugly. This booklets us who always have had a place to live inside, sheltered, know what is involved in the struggle for the homeless individual. After reading this book, it is clear that the answer is not simple, particularly when mental illness is part of the picture.

In Natalie’s case, Nietzke reports in a postscript that Natalie received treatment in a hospital and then after, being stabilized, received public mental health assistance and continued to live in a community care facility.