Mary and Toby


Mary and Toby moved to San Diego from the famed Orange County riverbeds after Mary was sexually assaulted, some alleged gang members shot Toby and then killed her cat. As part of a personal act of fortitude, taking back control of her anger and her self-worth, she wants to speak out about what happened to both of them and about the way she feels local governments are not doing enough to help the homeless, especially those with mental health needs, like Toby.

Originally from Oklahoma where she got pregnant young, and fled that abusive relationship, she landed in Southern California. Here, she gave up the baby because she knew she wasn’t capable of being a mother in the way she felt a good mother should be. She found work cleaning homes and did that successfully for 30 years, marrying someone who was stable and treated her better. She and her husband raised five children in the Orange County area, and she proudly boasts she became “the best crossing guard in Brea,” in 2005 and 2006. Her oldest son is in the navy, one of her daughters is a baker. She’s proud of them all.

Mary and her husband split up a few years ago, and Mary couldn’t make ends meet. She ended up on the streets, terrified. That’s when she met Toby, someone who would look after her at least as much as anyone can on the streets. But he has a lot of needs, and can be controlling at times. So she walks on eggshells with him and it’s wearing her down, even though she says she loves him.


Mary is worried about Toby. Before they met, county outreach workers kept trying to either arrest him, when he acted out, or put him in group homes where they could have full control over him. Every time he was released, he would be released with no money and no plan for staying on medications or setting up regular appointments to maintain his care. So he would essentially be starting over every time.

“When you’re getting off the streets,” Mary said, “there needs to be some sort of rehabilitation for people. For people like Toby, there wasn’t any rehab, despite his obvious need for medications for mental issues.”

In April 2010 they were in rapid rehousing for eight months. But something went wrong; her husband tried to commit suicide with an overdose. The manager threw them out.

So they were back out on the street.

“When you need medication and no one’s listening, what hope is there? First we should have an advocate. He’s like a ticking time bomb, because of the episodes that he has had. I’m really shocked we are back on the street - where do they expect us to go?” Mary lamented, while sitting on the edge of a bed at a downtown hotel. Some other individuals living on the street who were headed “inside” for the night to celebrate one of their birthday took them in as an act of kindness. The room was bordering on sauna hot, and Toby was curled up under blankets watching television by 5 p.m., a luxury they rarely get access to. Mary’s cat walked back and forth across the bed finally settling on her lap.

“The cops have no compassion for the mentally ill. They see us as varmints, the scum of the earth. How are we supposed to trust mentally ill people? they say to us,” she said.

“It’s getting to the point I’m losing my mind. Homeless women are the most vulnerable people out here. I’m holding all of this in and I’m about to crack. I don’t want my husband put away, but I know what he needs. Someone stole his credit card and they fraudulently took $300 from us. It was all we had. We couldn’t pay for his medications, we couldn’t pay for a motel room. We were back out on the streets,” she added.

Staring out the window at the driving rain, her mind wandered back to growing up in Oklahoma where everyone knew each other. That has a good and bad component. People know all about your business in a small town, which can be annoying, but also, everyone knows when you need something and they come to your aid. Small things matter in a close community. Her grandmother was a famous kindergarten teacher back in Oklahoma, she said, for instance, and that reflects two generations of pride.

Mary and Toby have been on the street together now since 2016, and she has mustered some of that Oklahoma pride, deciding she needs to become more vocal, reaching out to city and county leadership. “This has to be talked about, the situation with the mentally ill on the street,” she said. “If I have to go in front of the stupid mayor and county board of supervisors I will. The mentally ill are getting swept under the rug. My husband just wants to be loved. But nobody is listening.

“There’s no reason we should be out here,” she added. “I can do a better job than the county is doing. My husband gets SSI and disability, we are good people. My husband witnessed a crime and chased the guy down to the harbor, he’s that kind of person.”

Later that night Toby had an episode where he got into a shouting match with the people who had brought him in, and the police were called. The hotel owner tossed all of them out, even though they’d paid for three nights. Mary and Toby have melted back into the streets of San Diego.

Families, WomenPeggy Peattie