Who Are the Homeless?

I follow a blog called International LibertyRestraining Government in America and Around the World. Written by Dan Mitchell.  I don’t always agree with his views, but I do share his aversion to rampant passing of an endless stream of laws.

He posed a question today: “You Be the Judge: Should the Law Discourage People from Becoming Vagrants?

Not going to reblog his entire post here because it was a long one, with lots of questions to ponder. An interesting and rather disturbing read.

My comment on this post was:

I think that turning homelessness into a crime is similar to the way modern medicine treats illness – by addressing the symptom instead of the underlying problem.

Granted some bums are just bums because they damned well feel like it. But the majority would prefer not to be homeless. The National Alliance for Mental illness estimates that 1/3 of the homeless population in the US are veterans. Another 45% have untreated mental illness, and few options to receive treatment if they tried. Since the 50′s the population of people cared for in mental hospitals has decreased by 90%.

So who are the homeless? They are the lepers of the 20th century. We just want them to go away or lock them up out of sight.

I have a lot of siblings. 2 of them drift in and out of homelessness from time to time. They are both drowning in untreated mental illness and substance abuse problems. My brother is mentally impaired due to severe brain damage as the result of a fall when he was intoxicated. The severity of the brain injury is the direct result of being taken to jail because he was drunk instead of taken directly to the emergency room to treat his head injury.

He finally managed to get placed in government subsidized housing. But he has many restrictions attached to this home. The biggest is that he is not allowed to let anyone live with him. How’s that for ostracizing and warehousing one of our less than savory members of society? Seems like it would be cost effective to allow him to have a room mate.

The recent conundrum he faced involved a sister who ran out of bipolar meds, didn’t get refills and careened into a 3 week drinking binge and manic depressive episode. As a result she got kicked out of the place she was living. She ended up on my brother’s sofa alternating between sleeping, being out of her mind, and panhandling for money to buy beer.

So his choices are 1) let her stay and try to help her while risking losing his home? Or 2) throw his own sister, a mentally ill woman, out on the street to fend for herself.

What a horrifying decision to be forced to make. I don’t know what I would do in his shoes. I finally told him that my vote was that he had to protect himself and not risk losing his home. But why should he even have to make that choice? It doesn’t seem fair or even remotely humane. It makes me want to rip my hair out!

This sister’s “drinking buddy” who suffers from the delusion that she is a friend came and took her to a women’s shelter. The time limit on that stay is 3 days. So it’s up in the air about what happens next.

6 responses

  1. You know what, I know I’m a Johnny Come Lately with this one, but I’ve been doing some research into this stuff since your article and WOW, there is so much anti-homelessness among many US cities that it’s not even funny. I will be following up with an extended piece to yours on my blog sometime in the near future, but I will conclude with a redundant remark/query: How do you convict the homeless for being homeless? Especially in this economy, talk about total insensitivity.

    1. Not sure what you question is. Are you saying that I am convicting the homeless? My intention was to to state that the way homeless people are treated is a national tragedy.

      1. No I’m complementing you on your exposing such an issue. No, no in fact your blog is the reason I’ve been doing some research into the issue. I was stating overall people seem to be insensitive to the homeless issue. And I was stating that the laws being in place are attempting to convict the homeless for being homeless.

  2. Well said.

  3. Lordy, I hate the way we treat the mentally ill and homeless in this country. That’s the real crime. I know it’s a complex issue with lots of causes, but I still can’t help but blame Reagan’s policies in the 80s for the number of mentally ill folks out on the streets. He’s the one who cut mental health funding and started this whole boom. I don’t want ill people to be warehoused in hospitals, but throwing them in prison is even worse.

    1. It’s interesting that Reagan himself ended up mentally challenged in his later years. He was lucky to be wealthy enough to receive decent care.

      I don’t like warehousing the mentally ill, but I do think there should be that option for people who simply not take care of themselves. I agree with you that throwing them out on the street or putting them in prison is draconian and cruel.

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