Christopher Madson-Yamasaki, Age 26
Born March 20, 1993. Died Feb. 27, 2020
From his late teens until his death at 26, Christopher Madson-Yamasaki had been trapped between warring forces: an addiction for which no medication could ease the craving, and a mental illness that kept recovery just out of reach.
Chris was just a few weeks shy of his 27th birthday when he overdosed on methamphetamines in a tent tucked below an overpass of Interstate 405. Anything of his that might have been valuable had been stolen by the time an anonymous caller dialed 911 early Feb. 27, 2020. Christopher had been left with a blanket, two sleeping bags and a pair of shoes.
Chris was among 62 people experiencing homelessness in 2020 who died of an overdose of methamphetamines. Methamphetamines caused nearly half of all deaths among people experiencing homelessness, and nearly 80 percent of all deaths involving substances. That's the highest total number and highest percent of total cases since Domicile Unknown was first published in 2012.
“It was such a struggle for Chris for so long,” said his mother, Hope Yamasaki. “He did want to get help.”
Chris was a wild kid who loved to be outside and ride his bike. He built structures out of tape and cards, assembled miniature freeway systems around his bedroom, and took apart electronics only to reassemble them in working order. He talked incessantly and, no surprise to his mom, was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder.
“Chris was amazing. He was so kind and so nice. Even when he was young and wild,” Hope said. “He had a bravery about him.”
Once the family took a trip to visit the Space Needle in Seattle. “We got there, and he thought we were taking off and he was so ready,” Hope recalled with a laugh. “He had no fears about heading into outer space.”
Chris excelled in school, and enrolled in vocational training through Job Corps to earn his diploma. In 2013, he entered AmeriCorps. The program sent him to a Colorado wind farm. That’s where he had his first breakdown.
“He didn’t hurt anyone,” Hope said. “But he thought people could read his mind.”
He was asked to leave AmeriCorps and entered an in-patient treatment program. He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a chronic condition in which someone experiences symptoms of schizophrenia and disorders such as depression.
Chris secured a spot in a group home for young adults with mental illness, where a staff member watched him take his medication each day. But when he transitioned to independent housing, he stopped taking his medications and started using methamphetamines.
He lost his housing, and was too paranoid to remain in a shelter. Hope had other children at home, so she couldn’t let him stay at their house. When Chris visited once during a delusional break, she said, he lit papers on fire in the living room. Hope had to call the police.
“We spent so many years going in and out of programs,” she said. “I can’t even count. We went back and forth to in-patient. He was kicked out of rehab because of mental health problems and kicked out of mental health programs because of drugs.”
At the time of his death, Chris was on the waitlist for a residential treatment program for people with a dual diagnosis of mental illness and drug addiction.
Hope doesn’t remember who came to her door to tell her her son was dead. She had expected it, dreaded it, and lost faith that the system would save him.
Today she thinks about those glimmers of Chris — the real Chris — that she could glimpse when he was in treatment, on medications.
“It’s my kid. And when he was on his meds, you would see him again. Not all the way, but I would be so happy,” she said. “But it's so fragile.”