Fine and Dandy?

Posted: October 14, 2007 in Homelessness, Mental Health

Yesterday morning while at the downtown transit center, I saw a homeless woman who I see there most mornings. She’s an older woman who has an abundance of personal belongings that she totes around with her. I don’t really know where she sleeps, or even where she finds her meals.

There is another woman, also homeless, who I see quite often at or near the downtown transit center. This woman is younger than the other. I know that this younger woman doesn’t stay, or attempt, to stay at the homeless shelter.

Despite the age difference between these two woman, both have something other than homelessness in common: they both suffer from some degree of mental illness.  

The older woman usually avoids interaction with other people, although from time to time I’ve seen her talking with someone. Most of the time however, what conversations she does engage in are with an imaginary person.

The younger woman on the other hand seems to enjoy engaging in conversations with the bus drivers. But, like the older woman, I have seen her busily engaged in a conversation with someone who isn’t there.

Depending on when you happen to run into either one of them, there are actually times when both seem quite lucid. Then of course, there are those time when no matter how hard one tries, you just can’t seem to make sense out of anything being said.

I don’t know if either one of them is homeless due to mental illness or if their mental illness is a result of their having become homeless. It could be that their mental illness has worsened because of being homeless. But then, to tell you the truth – I just don’t know. Neither am I qualified to make an informed conclusion.

According to the fact sheet entitled: Mental Illness and Homelessness (which you can find on the National Coalition for the Homeless web site):

"Approximately 20% – 25% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness…"

That would put the number of homeless who suffer with some form of mental illness between 400,000 and 500,000. That is a staggering number. What is more staggering however, is that we seem to be doing nothing to find a way of helping this segment of the homeless community get off of the streets of our nation’s cities.

Sure, there are those organizations and agencies that are specifically devoted to helping those homeless who have mental illnesses, but due to lack of government funding, government budget cutbacks to these programs and a lack of understanding (and financial aid) from the main stream community, these individuals have no other avenue of opportunity available to them.

Many of them suffer mental illness to such an extreme degree that they are incapable of understanding that there are agencies out there that are designed to help them. Some of them are unable of recognizing that they do indeed have some form of mental illness.

So my questions are:

Is it "sane" for us to continue to ignore the needs of those who cannot fend for themselves?

And, by continuing to close our eyes to their needs, aren’t we just believing a fantasy that everything is fine and dandy?

  1. Wanderingvet says:

    Wow that 20 to 25% is a low statistic. Homelessness is survival at a base level and will do funny things to ones head. It has many physical and psychological side affects. I have had the crap scared out of me many times on the road. The VA says 70% of their Homeless Veterans are alcoholics or psychologically impaired homless veterans. So I am wondering where the NCH gets their facts on homelessnes mental illness totally. I seriously doubt the credibility of that 20 to 25%. It is a lot higher than that for sure.

  2. michael says:

    The statistics are based on numbers of ALL of the nations homeless. Only about 22% of America’s homeless are Veterans.

    Also, please remember that the figures currently cited for how many homeless there are in the nation, represent ONLY those who are recieving some form of homeless services.

    There are countless homeless out there who DO NOT recieve any help whatsoever, and as such, as unaccounted for.

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