US: A "mental" woman living in the driveway claims to be Zimbabwean
Tucson, Arizona, United States – Russell W. Dove first noticed her nearly two months ago — a barefoot young woman wearing khaki pants, a tank top, a thick silver bracelet and bright orange scarf.
She was living in his driveway, sleeping under one of his employees’ old trucks.
The quiet, willowy woman is still there. Dove sees her every afternoon, sitting with one knee pulled up beside each shoulder. Sometimes she talks softly to herself or to Dove’s dogs, who like to be near her. Other times, she does artwork. At night she sits gazing out at the sky and empty land behind Dove’s house.
A few times, he’s seen her crying.
When the heat is particularly searing, or the monsoon rains pounding, she nestles under the truck, pulling piles of dead leaves and other foliage around her. Occasionally she huddles under the overhang of a nearby business.
She showed up unannounced and uninvited.
Usually quick to run trespassers off the rural Tucson-area property he’s owned since 1986, Dove had a different reaction this time. Forcing her to leave didn’t seem right, he said. So he began looking for help, hoping she could be reunited with any family she might have.
But over the past weeks Dove learned that since she’s on his property, the onus was solely on him. He also found out that getting help for someone who doesn’t want it, even if they seem unstable or mentally ill, is extremely difficult. Right now, he believes his best option is to have her arrested, but he’s still undecided.
The woman, who Dove at first thought was a teenage boy, appears to be suffering from some type of mental illness, or severe effects of a trauma. She says she is 26, and that her name is Matri (pronounced May-tree) Amma. She also says she is from Zimbabwe, and that she’s been in the United States for seven or eight years.
“I don’t put her in the same category as most homeless people. She ain’t typical,” said Dove, 75. “I don’t feel right about putting her out there into the world all alone. Maybe eventually we’ll get someone interested in doing something.”
Unless she wants help, which she doesn’t, Amma can’t immediately be forced into getting it — unless it’s an emergency situation in which she’s considered a danger to herself or others. And there’s nothing to indicate she’s either of those. But Dove wonders whether there’s someone looking for Amma, perhaps her parents or other loved ones.
She has told Dove and his wife, Ruby, little about herself. They offered her sandals, but she refused them. They offered her a shower and she declined that, too. She hasn’t asked for money or food.
Explaining that someone is coming to get her, Amma insists on staying in the Doves’ driveway. There, she talks to their dogs through a fence and feeds them scraps of food that the Doves assume she must get from customers or workers at the nearby convenience store and pizza parlor.
She also draws intricate diagrams and sketches pictures of animals and symbols that look like hieroglyphics on scraps of paper bags and plastic-foam food containers.
“If she doesn’t ask for help, I guess you can’t do anything. She seems content,” said 62-year-old Greg Smith, who lives in a trailer on the Doves’ property.
Still, Smith and Dove say that for weeks they’ve been trying to find some intervention. Dove says he’s called shelters, the state’s Adult Protective Services and a refugee resettlement group. He says he called the church down the street and consulted with a neighbor who is a social worker.
He called the Marana Police Department and said a dispatcher told him he’d have to file a complaint and have Amma arrested in order for them to help.
The Arizona Daily Star followed up with calls to all the agencies that Dove called, and the Marana Police Department and the Department of Economic Security’s Adult Protective Services suggested the Southern Arizona Mental Health Clinic, which has a mental-health crisis-intervention team.
Clinic officials wouldn’t comment on Amma’s case and did not return a phone call Wednesday, but Dove said the agency sent a crisis team out Tuesday.
Dove said he was told he could file an affidavit in support of Amma’s getting court-ordered psychiatric help. He’d have to fill out some paperwork and possibly testify in court.
Title 36 of Arizona law says that if a mentally ill person is refusing treatment, someone may petition for them to be assessed at a psychiatric facility. To ensure individuals’ civil rights are protected, someone like Dove, who has witnessed the mentally ill person over some time, would normally be the one to initiate it or at least be involved in the petition.
The petition would then be reviewed by the Pima County Attorney’s Office. The law says that for someone to be assessed without their permission, they must be proved to have a mental disorder and meet one of four criteria — they are a danger to themselves, a danger to others, persistently or acutely disabled or gravely disabled. Ultimately, a judge would be the one to order an assessment and, if needed, subsequent treatment.
Robert Sorce, the deputy assistant director of the Arizona Department of Health Services’ Division of Behavioral Health Services, said he believes it’s more typical for involuntary commitments to be emergency cases in which someone is clearly a threat to themselves or to other people and law enforcement is involved.
“You can’t just pick people up because you don’t like the way they look or dress or because they are homeless,” he said, noting patients’ rights are always a concern.
Amma may qualify as someone who is “persistently or acutely disabled” because of what appears to be a mental illness. Dove says he doesn’t think he wants to get involved in a court process. He’s giving more consideration to calling the police and having Amma arrested for trespassing. Marana police say they often connect mentally ill people with community resources, as does the Pima County jail.
When she speaks, Amma sounds American — she has no trace of an accent. She knows the names of the immediate past presidents as well as President Obama. She knows that Abraham Lincoln is on the penny. She’s also knowledgeable about music and sings songs ranging from Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” to TLC’s “No Scrubs.” She also dances and likes to talk about movies — “The Matrix” was one of her favorites, and she says it has deeper meaning about our society.
Her past, however, remains a mystery.
She does not articulate how she got to the Doves’ property. She talks about being separated from a group and says they were walking on the highway together. Her greatest consistency is a belief that there are people coming back to get her, and that she doesn’t need anyone’s assistance.
Dove believes otherwise.
“The woman needs some help,” he said. “I’m just still not sure how I’m going to handle this.” (Arizona Daily Star)