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November 26, 1985
At 28, A Prologue of Promise, But A Life in Rags

by Sara Rimer
For seven months now, Gary Doe, whose life once seemed so filled with promise, has been wandering the city's streets in filthy clothes, foraging for food in garbage cans, sleeping in Central Park.

"He's dying," said his former girlfriend, a 26-year-old Manhattan legal assistant who did not want to be named. "He's dying in the street"

Gary Doe's real name is being withheld at the request of his family. He is 28 years old, and to his friends and family, his fall seems as precipitous and inexplicable as his rise was meteoric. In an attempt to help him, they have made his story public through George McDonald, a former candidate for City Council President who is an advocate for the homeless.

Gary, from a poor black family in Phenix City, Ala., graduated from Harvard University in 1979 and then Columbia Law School. He served as an aide to Senator Donald Stewart of Alabama and clerked for a Federal District Court judge. Until last fall, when he resigned after failing the Florida bar examination, he was working for a prestigious law firm in Miami at an annual salary of $42,000, according to Mr. McDonald.

"He had success written all over him," said Rachel Kemp, and international planning analyst for Avon Products, who was in his class at Harvard. "He was disciplined, a hard worker, very focused. He knew he was going to law school. He knew he was going to be a successful lawyer."

After he quit his job, he sat in his apartment for days, doing nothing. "He bacame more and more depressed," his former girlfriend said. "He was unhappy with everything. Gary never took care of his personal life. He was career oriented -- that was No. 1. He felt it was a sign of weakness to be dealing with emotional things."

Last spring he arrived in New York and is now one of the city's estimated 50,000 homeless people. "He's an example of how close anyone can be to homelessness," said Robert M. Hayes, a lawyer for the Coalition for the Homeless.

'A Very Large Catch-22'
Gary's friends and family are trying to help him. But apparently because of legal ambiguities involved in committing a person to a psychiatric hospital without his consent, along with a shortage of beds in those hospitals, they have not succeeded.

"There is so much pressure among psychiatrists to avoid committing all but the most homicidal or suicidal patients that people like Gary who need help and whose death is coming slowly are left to the streets," Mr. Hayes said.

"It's a very large Catch-22," said Miss Kemp, who has been trying to help her former classmate since she ran into him on Third Avenue last summer. "I told the police, 'I know where he is. Why can't I just have his mother come and pick him up?' They told me I could've gone to jail for violating his civil liberties."

One problem is his own training and skill as a lawyer. While he wanders in a daze much of the time, he can also be extrememly articulate, according to Miss Kemp. "He can explain to you that he is a free man in a free society and he has violated no laws," she said.

Volunteers with Project Help, a mobile psychiatric outreach team that sends vans around the city to pick up homeless people, tried on at least one occasion to get Gary off the street.

"We attempted to convince him to get treatment," said Jane Putnam, the coordinator for Project Outreach. "He was unwilling. He's not at risk enough to warrant the use of the involuntary stature. He's betwixt and between. He's at risk, but not as much as 100 other people."

But the friends who have been monitoring his condition since last May say that Gary has deteriorated badly. "He's suffered substantial neglect to his person," said Mr. McDonald. "He's gaunt, he's fallen out of his clothes. He walks as if he's going to fall over. We're very concerned he's going to be run over by an automobile."

"What if he freezes to death?" said his girlfrioend, who has followed Gary on several occasions, watching him eat out of garbage cans.

She said the last few months had been filled with frustration. "We've talked to psychiatrists, doctors, social workers, policemen, organizations like United Way," she said. "No one really knows what we can do."

Last week Gary's mother traveled here from Phenix City in an unsuccessful attempt to find her son. "I hope to God he doesn't die," she said. "I want to get him help. That's why I came up here."

She said she had last seen her son two years ago. "He seemed fine," she said. "It's really heartbreaking."

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