Our Town Reno: Mental Health Breakdown Leads To Homelessness

Apr 16, 2018

Jerry Jackson used to be an operations manager for a hazardous waste facility. That was before he suffered a mental health breakdown. Now, he's homeless and lives in downtown Reno. He spoke to our student contributor Prince Nesta about life on the streets and his struggle to find work.

Burnout Leads to Alcoholism and Being Alone

Jackson, a native of New Mexico, who also grew up in Wyoming and has since bounced around from state to state, says it can take very little in our rush, rush, rat race society to lose your footing.

“My breakdown was basically like a domino effect; it took a little bit of time. I split up with my wife, moved, got more responsibilities at work and then just the depression of not being around people that I wanted to be around and then just the normal pressures of life,” he remembers. 

He says he doesn’t see his wife anymore or his daughter, but he’s proud of her as she’s in the College of Pharmacy at Oregon State University. He remembers how even though initially they wanted to help, he pushed his family away.

“I wanted to sleep all the time. I didn't want to wake up and do anything,” he said. “I started pushing my friends and family away and all of a sudden all I wanted to do was drink and not do anything other than numb the pain. My family, they tried to help but I was in such a bad place at the time, my head was so mixed up, I couldn't help myself, let alone allow somebody else to help me...”

Fears for Reno’s Future

“The biggest message I'd like to send out there is…most people are probably one paycheck away from being where I'm at. I mean, anything can happen. If you don't want to be in my spot, plan for the future,” Jackson said.

He says people should also lose some of their pride, face their reality and seek help when they need it.

“I've got lots of regrets, probably too numerous to count. Probably the biggest one that I regret is not asking for help when I had my nervous breakdown,” he said.

He fears with rising rents that more people could become homeless like him in the Biggest Little City, especially as the area moves toward a more hi-tech business environment.

“They're driving up the cost of apartments. [You] can't hardly get even in an extended stay motel anymore. There's a couple property owners here in town that are buying up some of the downtown on Fourth Street and stuff where a lot of financially challenged people live and a lot of those people are on fixed income. You know, they're getting social security checks and stuff like that, and if they raise the rent, they don't have a place to go,” he said. 

Read the rest of this story and see more photos at Our Town Reno. This story was produced by reporter Prince Nesta, a graduate student at the Reynolds School of Journalism. He works for Our Town Reno, a  production of the Reynolds Media Lab that uses multimedia street reporting to document homelessness.