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Monday, April 23, 2012

The Fat Naked Guy on Ft. Lauderdale Beach: Society's Abandonment of the Mentally Ill

A few weeks ago, I took a trip back to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a place where I used to live from 1998 to 2002. I loved living there at the time and was excited to return. While I found some things the same, I noted that the area was generally run down. People had told me that and I did not want to believe it, but it was true. For example, in my formerly beautiful apartment complex, a dog was swimming in the pool and many residents had their personal belongings packed onto their balconies making it look like a scene from A&E’s hit TV show, Hoarders. The formerly spacious and pristine Fashion Mall was abandoned. The spacious Sawgrass Mills Mall was strewn with litter between the rows of palm trees. Many of the downtown shops on the famous Las Olas Riverfront were gone, partly due to hard economic times. The beautiful downtown Riverfront area was also non-functional, with no working escalators and sections cordoned off by police tape.

Thankfully, my graduate school alma mater, Nova Southeastern University was in great shape and the campus was gorgeous. The Davie Ale House was still terrific and the famous Zingers were a delicious accompaniment to lunch. Dinner at The Oasis Café was nice on the famous swing tables along the beach.

But it was what I saw after dinner that completely ruined my entire day and return to the Ft. Lauderdale area. After dinner, I decided to take a walk with my family along the beach walkway. Across the street from the Route 66 Rock Bar on A1A, my wife and I noticed a large dark object on the beach wobbling from side to side and making strange noises. At first, we did not know what it was, but upon closer inspection, it became clear that this was a morbidly obese naked man rolling around in the sand who was barking at times and aggressively talking gibberish to people walking by.

I could not believe what I was seeing. Never, when I used to live there, would something like this be permitted.  Fortunately, we were quick enough to be able to shield our young children’s eyes from this scene but other families were likely not so lucky. Having moved past him, we took one picture for documentation purposes which is shown above. Then, we saw three young adults standing over him, laughing, apparently taunting him, and snapping pictures of him. This was equally disturbing. No one seemed to be trying to rectify the situation and there were no police officers were in sight.

So, I walked over to the Beach Place open mall area which was about a block away (and also run down). I walked up to a security guard and described what I saw. He instantly knew who I was talking about, smiled, and laughed, as did the person who was standing next to him. They told me that the man had been coming there for years and he is sometimes taken away when enough people complain but that he always finds his way back there somehow. They showed absolutely no interest in trying to have the man removed again. In speaking with a clothing store worker across the street from where he was laying, she stated that he has been coming there for about four years and that there have been times when he actually has stopped traffic due to rolling out onto the road. She seemed frustrated but did not seem to believe she could fix the situation. Before I left for the night, someone had thrown a towel on him.

When I got home, I began to do some research on this situation and discovered that his name is Kelvin (Kelvin Lamar Willaims to be exact). In some of the Youtube videos, he is shown singing incoherently. It is clear that he is mentally ill. He apparently has some ability to walk and had been seen getting to the beach by bus. One person noted that he was a frequent patient in a local mental health facility, a problem known to many health professionals as the revolving door syndrome. In all of the videos I found, Kelvin had his clothes on so his nakedness appears to be something new. One such video is here:







The situation I saw led me to reflect about:


1. How society has failed to properly care for many people with chronic severe mentally illness. Kelvin is just one example but his case is portrayed here to highlight the problem. While the police can take Kelvin to a mental health facility, they do not have funds to keep him there forever. He claims to be a former military member and if true, the Veteran’ Administration should bear some responsibility for his care. Kelvin needs to be taken to a mental health facility when needed and eventually brought to some type of supervised living situation designed to care for such individuals. One of the core functions of government is to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable members of society. If Kelvin does not qualify, I do no not know who does.

2. Law enforcement is apparently not dealing with the problem effectively. I am not saying that Kelvin should be put in jail, but he cannot be allowed to stay there. Public nudity is not allowed on the beach, is not appropriate for children to see, and it is scary for people to see someone aggressively yelling at people who pass by on what should be a relaxing beach. Regardless of the fact that he keeps coming back after being taken away, since when is that an excuse not to enforce the law? Again, this does not mean he should be imprisoned, but there needs to be better coordination between law enforcement, mental health facilities, and social services to keep him in the proper setting.

3. The apparent lack of concern of many in society towards the severely mentally ill. It was clear that many in the area viewed the situation as comical or have just become so used to it that they have given up.    

4. How this typified the degradation of the Ft. Lauderdale area. What is the Chamber of Commerce thinking? Do they think this is a scene that endears tourists to the area? I would never go back there, particularly with children, until some massive changes take place. It pains me to say this because I have great memories and love for the Ft. Lauderdale area.

Plan of Action:

1. Since no one on the beach seemed to want to address this situation or felt helpless to address it, I decided I would try to bring some attention to the matter by writing a blog entry about it, especially since I could not find any local news articles written about this situation via an internet search. This is remarkable considering that he has been there for years.

2. I am going to send a copy of this blog entry to the two local newspapers (Miami Herald and the Sun Sentinel) to see if either is willing to bring more public attention to this matter.

3. Posting this to the Ft. Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce Facebook page. They will probably delete it but you can go there and demand they use their influence to try to do something about the situation. I will email them the blog post as well.

4. Contact the Mental Health Association of Broward County at info@mhabroward.org

5. Contact the state Senator’s and local legislator’s for that area. 
    A. Senator Bill Nelson can be contacted here.
    B. Senator Marco Rubio can be contacted here.
    C. Congressman Allen West can be contacted here.  

6. Contact the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

7. Contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

8. Contact the local Channel 7 news channel. 

9. Spread the word on social medial sites.

Update on 6/1/12: Not a single one of the above sources responded to my email inquiries and as predicted, the Ft. Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce deleted the Facebook post about this matter. Also, as further evidence of the decline of the Ft. Lauderdale area, Ft. Lauderdale resident Rudy Eugene recently had the distinction of becoming the person who chewed a man's face off in broad daylight on the Miami Causeway.

Update on 6/25/12: I found out that Kelvin Williams was arrested for cocaine possession shortly after I saw him on the beach. Here is his mug shot.

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