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Phillip's journey: From homelessness to help

1:44 AM, Nov 9, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- On a sunny fall day in a simple Atlanta apartment, Phillip Haynes goes about his day. He gets a drink of water in his kitchen. He turns on his TV to search for a favorite show.

They are mundane moments -- until you consider where Phillip was less than a year ago.

I ask Phillip if he remembers when we first met.

"Yes," he says. "I was surprised. What would the news want with me? Being homeless, in the situation I was in."

We were with Phillip's mother when she found him living behind an abandoned Alpharetta office building.

FINDING PHILLIP | A mother's fight to save her son

It was days after the Sandy Hook shootings. Denise Haynes didn't think her son would hurt anyone. But she didn't know, because she didn't know Phillip anymore.

Phillip had been missing for months, and for two years before that, this once typical boy he had been unraveling, losing his touch with reality.

When we tried to talk to him that day, the conversation was bizarre and nonsensical. When Phillip's mother asked him if he would like to go to a place that could help him, he answered, "It depends if I have black level complacency at this place, probably not."

We asked him what he meant. Phillip's answer was, "I don't know. Solitude has driven me mad, similar to the deranged hermit."

The reunion did not go well. Phillip refused help that day.

WATCH | One mother's battle with her son's mental illness

Denise Haynes left that day out of ideas -- out of hope.

After the story aired, we connected Denise with Grady's ACT team, which stands for assertive community treatment.

They befriended Phillip. Every day the teams go out and service hundreds of mentally ill people in Atlanta, wherever they live.

They got Phillip into temporary housing. We visited him in the hotel, but while he was cleaned up and seemed more stable, the conversations were still not normal.

Six weeks after we first met him, we asked him if he knew what was wrong with him.

"What's wrong with me? How am I supposed to know? I don't have a PhD in anything," he said.

The ACT team got him a diagnosis of schizophrenia and depression. They got him on medication.

"Medicine has turned my life around," he said.

They got him a voucher for an apartment. The next step for Phillip is to re-enter the world.

"I'm going to be getting a part-time job and hopefully from there, maybe a full-time job," he said.

In 11 months, the pieces of Phillip's life are falling back into place.

Greg Sterchi, the program manager for one of Grady's ACT teams, visits with Phillip. He and psychiatrist Dr. Sarah Vinson ask Phillip how he's doing: "Any voices or anything like that bothering you?"

"No," Phillip says.

Members of the ACT team visit twice a week for talk therapy. And they do just that -- talk.

"His recovery has been pretty remarkable," Sterchi said.

Phillip is reconnected to his life -- to his family.

For Denise Haynes, there are no words to express how far Phillip has come. When asked if she thinks the ACT team saved Phillip's life, she answered, "Yes. No doubt. They saved his life."

And so she and her family did something no one has ever done for the ACT teams. They organized a fundraiser for Grady ACT teams, a bazaar that will be held Saturday at Parc Alpharetta. Sixty vendors are taking part; all proceeds will go to the teams, so they can help more Phillips.

LEARN MORE | Grady ACT teams fundraiser

Sometimes it's hard to measure change in our lives, because it seems so gradual. Not in Phillip's case.

We asked Phillip, "How would you describe this past year of your life?"

Smiling just the tiniest bit, he says, "Transforming. There's nothing really that can stand in my way now."

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