Homeless and mentally ill: Hilda’s story

Hilda has had some mental health treatment, but she believes many who are homeless fall through the cracks

  • Keira McGuire

The corner of West Chestnut Street and Queen Street in Lancaster offers a unique combination of shelter and seating. It’s well-known by the local homeless population. Hilda Sierra-Marrero is one of many that frequent the area.

Right now, Hilda considers anywhere under “God’s sky” to be her home.  She keeps her important possessions secured safely in a cart which she calls her car.

Hilda hasn’t always been homeless. She has tried many different housing situations, but since 2009 she has been evicted from at least six places she can remember. She says people don’t understand her or her habits. Sometimes, she says she doesn’t understand herself. Hilda has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Keira McGuire / PA Post

Hilda receives warm blankets from a woman on the corner of Chestnut Street and Queen Street in Lancaster.

Hilda has family, but at this point only has a relationship with her son. She is now choosing to live homeless so that she can be in her own “bubble.” When she does need to escape the weather or just wants solitude, she stays in a storage unit.

Hilda believes many others who are living homeless are also suffering from mental health disorders. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20-25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness.

Hilda has had some treatment for her mental health disorders. She takes medication daily.  But she feels most of the homeless population falls through the cracks.  She’d like to see more connection between professionals and those who need treatment.

“Put the books down. Put the DSM down and come out here … put time here, where we’re at.”


This story is part of Through the Cracks, a months-long project that will draw on experts and first-hand accounts to target problems and break down stigma associated with mental health.

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