Editor: Homelessness, mental health and addictions are global problems. This article represents a writer’s American perspective.
When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, homelessness was nearly unheard of. I would see movies about the “bums” living near the railroad tracks. People that, my mother told me, were just drunks who were too lazy to work.
While that isn’t the complete truth about people who are homeless, I believed what she had told me. However, when I began seeing people on the streets and in parks who appeared to be having complete conversations with no one (this was well before blue-tooth headsets) I began to question what I had been told.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter touted the Mental Health Systems Act and made it law. This program gave funding to community mental health hospitals and clinics. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan and Congress repealed most of the law.
This forced mental health hospital wards to empty all but the most violent of patients. For the mentally ill, this has caused chronic homelessness, with one out of every three homeless people having some sort of mental illness.
Drug addiction or chronic alcoholism is another source of homelessness. While some claim that higher housing costs or stagnant wages are behind the homelessness trend, consider that nearly 33 percent of all Americans are suffering from some sort of anxiety, PTSD, or severe stress, which prevents them from working, not to mention, drug addiction only compounds these feelings.
A New Way to Deal with Housing the Homeless
Recovered addicts will tell you that getting a job and then getting housing is the backwards way to deal with these problems. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to be homeless, living in a tent city, and get a job, let alone, hold on to it.
Rarely does the mentally ill have identification. When addicts try for identification, they are told they need a mailing address. There is no address attached to tent cities or cardboard boxes. There are also no washing machines, showers, or other things we take for granted.
While literally giving away a place to live is no guarantee that we can end all homelessness, it certainly can be a start.
The federal government or states need to find ways to find hospitals for the mentally ill. With treatment, those whom psychiatrists feel can take their place in society again can move into halfway houses, or cities can pay the rent for apartment buildings designed for the homeless, where the manager isn’t just a handyman. Job skills can be taught, and jobs applied for according to each individual’s skill set.
Those with drug addictions must go through rehabilitation. Afterwards, they can be housed like the way the (formerly or treated) mentally ill are, but with two small exceptions. Former addicts must remain drug free, with random testing being done in person (no borrowing urine from your child). If drugs are present in the person’s system, they return to rehab. If drugs are found on a subsequent visit, the person is removed from housing.
Other rules and regulations will need to apply, certainly. Families should stay together. If one parent is removed from housing, the other parent (if they are clean) can stay. Programs can be implemented to help people budget and learn to afford their own apartments.
This is just a rough draft of a plan to end homelessness. It won’t end homelessness entirely. There will always be those who simply want to live the nomad life for whatever reason they have. Imagine how drastically we could cut homelessness, however, if you allowed people to get the help they need first? They would find employment, and eventually be able to move into their own space.
It is especially important that families with children be given a second chance and a place to live. It’s been found that families with chronic homelessness issues are raising children who will end up homeless themselves.
Somehow, we need to address this issue before we become a country that is literally divided, between those with housing and those without.
As my mother used to also tell me in a sarcastic tone “You make it all sound so easy! Why don’t you run for president?”
I am not blind to the problems this plan entails, including:
- An overall lack of funding in all areas. This plan would require hospitals, personnel, doctors and psychiatrists or therapists, apartments that would need to be rented or purchased, managers, rehab clinics, testing clinics, and the cost of medication.
- Many people who would live near these apartments would not want the formerly homeless as neighbours
- Jobs would need to be created
- Utilities for apartments would need to be paid for each month
These are the issues I can reel off the top of my head. I’m certain there are more, but the main problem here boils down to one thing: money, or a lack of it.
There are two easy solutions (my mother is rolling her eyes even now).
1. Tax Churches
2. Federally legalize marijuana in all its forms and tax it to pay for these programs
Most people will balk at my first suggestion, and while the second may raise a few eyebrows, I believe that most people would agree to it.
No one would force anyone to buy cannabis, so if you disagree with the policy, you aren’t funding anything.
In the End
Homelessness is becoming a huge problem in cities across the US. We must find a way to deal with this issue. Politicians on both sides have talked till we are blue in the face and turn off the television, but the problem has only seemed to grow.
Are we going to ignore homelessness until it bites us in the proverbial butt? Or are we going to be proactive and take this problem by the hand?