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  • Writer's pictureCatherine J Rippee-Hanson


Updated: Jun 1, 2020

by Linda (Rippee) Privatte

For the last 13 years, I have searched the streets hundreds of times for my brother, Mark, in order to care for him. He is blind, had an extensive TBI, has serious mental illness and anosognosia. He has been homeless and untreated. I have followed him to alleys, searched the streets, dumpsters, empty parking lots, creeks, under overpasses, behind shopping centers , fields, a mountain property, shelters, street drains, homeless encampments, bus stops, hospitals, and the county jail.

I have ended up in some risky situations over the years but continued to go to him on the streets. I would feed him, take clothing to him, took too many blankets and sleeping bags to count. But I would also sit with him in the gutter, the sidewalk or field where he was for hours. I listened. I understood him as others could not. He needed therapy and so I became his therapist. He needed human kindness and I gave that to him. He craved human touch and no one else was willing. I never left him without holding his hand, hugging him or saying “I love you.” I tried to be everything he needed me to be. But, the one thing I am not, is a mental health professional. I am however a Serious Mental Illness advocate.

I went many times to search for my brother and many times was unsuccessful. I would cry each time I could not locate him. Well, truthfully I would cry each time I found him too! Sometimes I would lose track of him for days or weeks but not usually longer unless the Vacaville Police Dept. had picked him up again. So a few years ago when several months went by, I put my detective skills into overdrive but was unsuccessful for an entire 14 months! Yes, as many times before, I started to worry that maybe my brother had died on the streets this time as we have always feared without us even being aware.

I still looked but never found him and I had that sinking feeling that we were never going to know his fate. I had already called the coroner so many times in the past to check that I had the phone number memorized. Each time we could not help but grieve one more time for my brother. After dozens of times this process has become all too familiar to our family.

I found it impossible to pass up homeless people and not want to offer help. I will not try to persuade you one way or another if you should approach the mentally ill that are homeless or not...your own conscious should guide you - and do keep your personal safety in mind. My brother had been lost 14 months and had not been found. I watched for him everywhere I went and almost accepted that he may be lost forever to us.

My brother was found the last time I attended the Creekwalk in Vacaville. I have not returned to the Creekwalk since that time. I have my own reasons that it is very difficult for me to just walk by. I was enjoying the music with my husband and walked to the food truck while he saved our spot on the grass. As I was returning I stumbled and fell over a homeless person that was asleep on the grass. I fell down and apparently I drew attention. I was scuffed up but, okay. I felt it was my own fault I tripped, but several people in the crowd began shoving and waking the homeless person, screaming at him to go away! I turned to tell the crowd that I was okay, I was fine and leave him alone! When to my horror - I saw that it was my brother!

I had not been able to find for over 14 months....the longest time I had ever lost him! I panicked at the thought that they might actually hurt him and in that moment I screamed at the crowd that he was my brother... in an effort to protect him. That same crowd then turned on me and in those moments I became just as despised and judged as my brother for a situation I had no control over. I felt the fear he felt.

I felt the heaviness of the judgment of the crowd. I shared my brothers despair. I have asked myself many times since, why did I, out of thousands that were there that night fall right over my own brother? What if I had not looked back or cared about the crowd angrily attacking a homeless person? I will never know why or how I was there in that moment....only that I will never just look away again in case he might be found again.

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