Joyce Patricia Brown (b. 1949, d. 2005)
This woman's forced commitment to a psychiatric hospital was ruled unconstitutional, setting a precedent that someone can't be involuntarily committed unless they are an obvious danger to themselves or others. Brown lived on the streets after struggling with drug addiction and falling out with her family. Mayor Ed Koch sought to use her as an example for a new program targeting the homeless.
Joe Comfort (b. 1952)
Comfort has endeared himself to the citizens of New Haven, Connecticut by doing odd jobs for anyone who can pay him, from home owners to college fraternities. Formerly employed by the Ringling Bros. Circus, Comfort claims his epilepsy has made it difficult for him to find consistent employment as potential employers see him as a liability.
Leslie Cochran (b. 1951, d. 2012)
A fixture in Austin, Texas, Cochran was known for his strange clothing, often times cross-dressing to draw attention to himself. Once he achieved minor celebrity he used his new platform to discuss issues facing the city, surprising people with his keen observations and how well spoken he was. The city has designated the day he died, March 8th, as Leslie Day.
The Wandering Scribe (b. unknown)
Another instance of someone using their tragic experience to pull themselves out of it. This anonymous woman blogged about her life living in a car in the London woods. The blog (here) caught the attention of mainstream media and literary agents, landing her a book deal and a home. However, there are many people who contend that it's all a hoax, pointing to inconsistencies in her writing as proof.