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Award-winning advocate for the homeless

He’s been a chaplain, business manager, teacher, gardener and an award-winning activist.
He’s lived on the streets.
And, Randle Loeb has bipolar disorder.

His father was a lawyer; his mother an actress, writer and teacher of literature. As a child, he was “diagnosed” as “undisciplined,” and he spent a lot of time in the principal’s office. He had trouble concentrating and couldn’t sit still in class. In sixth grade, he was “put on the slow track” with low-functioning kids. But, his parents were supportive. “My father could cajole me out of my moods,” he said.

By high school he was an honors student, yearbook editor, and award-winning writer. He had limitless energy, he said, and was active in sports and volunteering. In college, he was a conscientious objector and an activist, protesting the Vietnam War. He read his poetry at coffee houses and worked at a variety of jobs. But, he suffered mood swings and often felt insecure, anxious and unable to sleep.

He earned a Master of Divinity degree at the Iliff School of Theology, University of Denver, and a second masters in science and education at the prestigious Bank Street College of Education, New York.

But, his life didn’t go the way he’d planned. He held a variety of jobs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. He was married, had three children and was divorced. He was troubled and in pain. He felt alone.

“I’d spent my life trying to fit in. I couldn’t relate to the people I loved. I was frenetic and petulant. I thought I was a failure as a father and that’s why I decided to get help.”

He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and accepted treatment. Over the next decade, he took a variety of mood stabilizers, but wouldn’t stay on them for long, because, he said, they clouded his consciousness.

A second marriage failed, along with other relationships damaged by his mood swings. “I could be overbearing and intense,” he said. He lost jobs and his life crumbled.

He was homeless for six years, sleeping on porches and in gardens. He said he just gave up.

“I was physically and emotionally destitute. I lost faith and judgment.” After a suicide attempt on the eve of Sept. 11, 2001, that left him in a coma for five days, he wondered how thousands of innocent people could die in the World Trade Center tragedy, while he had somehow survived. He vowed to turn his life around.

He found help through the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and got back into treatment.

He became a passionate advocate for the homeless. Before long, he was being asked to speak at meetings attended by state and federal officials and other groups. In 2003, he was appointed to the Denver Mayor’s Commission to End Homelessness and served as vice president of the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. Last year, a major Colorado television news program recognized him as their volunteer of the year and he’s won numerous awards for his advocacy.

“We have a new generation of homeless people,” he was quoted saying recently in the Denver Post. “What are we going to do to put this front and center?” The topic was the local homeless population and the upcoming Democratic National Convention.

Loeb is an active volunteer in his Unitarian church, working on its Social Action Committee. “I came into the church off the street as a derelict,” he said. “They didn’t really embrace me at first, but they offered me help and shelter.”

Despite his successes, his life is a constant struggle. He sees a psychiatrist, but won’t take the medications his doctor recommends. He acknowledges that they would help, but questions whether he is worthy of redemption. He pays a price.

“It’s not easy to live this way,” he said, “but that’s what I’ve chosen to do. I have tremendous anger, fear and loss of control. I don’t really have the ability to be a stable and loving partner.”

Loeb lives in the basement of a Methodist church in exchange for caretaking of the building. He has no income other than the occasional odd job or stipend he receives for speaking. He applied for Social Security disability, but was denied.

He tries to stay healthy. “I swim, I bike. There are people in my life who look after me.” He writes poetry and essays about his experiences and “the brothers and sisters of the shadows.”

“I am a survivor,” he said. “I live from day to day. But, I believe that every step is a gift, every breath a blessing.”

Randle Loeb was awarded the Ellen Dailey Advocacy Award by the National Consumer Advisory Board in Phoenix in June.

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