Social Blindness

Posted: July 20, 2007 in Health, Homelessness

Yesterday I received an e-mail from Mary Garcia-Lemus, the producer of the documentary film "Suckerfish," who wanted to know if I knew how many homeless persons had mental health issues. I couldn’t directly recall what the percentage was but, I knew I had read something about it, so I did a quick search and came up with some statistical numbers and was unpleasantly surprised by the numbers I had found.

The National Coalition for the Homeless gave the number of adult single homeless who suffer from one form of mental illness or another as being between 20% and 25%.  

After doing some quick calculations I came up with the following numbers:

There are approximately 3.5 million homeless persons in the United States. Roughly 1.5 million of them are children. This leaves about 2 million homeless adults. The result is that some 400,000 to 500,000 homeless Americans suffer from some type of mental health issue.

In the 1980’s, due to budget cutbacks, many agencies and organizations whose outreach programs where designed for helping those who had mental or emotional disabilities had their funding cut back. Some of them had their funding cut completely. The consequence is that a large number of Americans who had been benefited by these programs found themselves homeless.

Since then, funding for these types of agencies has not increased proportionately to the increasing numbers of people who suffer from mental health issues. These individuals find themselves homeless because there are no agencies available to advocate on their behalf. And, because many who do have mental issues are not capable of recognizing their need for treatment, they go about life without seeking help.

I have yet to come across any actual statistics regarding how many of San Luis Obispo County’s homeless have mental illness issues, but just from the number of homeless people I’ve met, I’m guessing that the number is around 1 in 5.

The questions that keep popping into my mind are: "How many of them have grown worse due to homelessness?" and "How many of them suffered mental breakdowns as a result of becoming homeless?"

Homelessness is an extremely stressful lifestyle because of many underlying factors that most non-homeless people cannot begin to even fathom. The emotional shock of becoming displaced from society is such that even a person who is possessed of extreme self-confidence experiences a sever blow to their self-esteem.

There are a couple of homeless people I’ve met who have actually tried to commit suicide as a result of the stress of homelessness. One of them, unfortunately, succeeded in taking their own lives.

When will open our eyes to the truth? Homelessness is an affliction: an affliction that can be corrected, but only if we are willing to do what is right, instead of doing what is convenient.

Supposedly, an ostrich buries its head in the sand to hide itself from danger and other unpleasant things. But think about what is sticking up: its hind quarters.

As long as we continue to engage in social blindness; as long as we continue to bury our head in the sand when it comes to the plight of the homeless we’re just deceiving ourselves – and, sooner or later someone is going to come along and kick us in the you know where…

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