Bitter, snow filled winds accelerate to a fierce gust as it makes its way into an underpass. Those lucky enough stay inside bundled up with hot apple cider and a mountain of blankets enjoying the holiday season. Not everyone is inside and protected from the freezing weather though, about 500,000 people across America are currently homeless according to endhomelessness.org. What is even scarier and worrying is 25% of homeless Americans suffer from severe mental illness. Often times, like many of you, when I pull up to a red light and spot a homeless person making their way towards me I avoid eye contact while thinking ¨Just go get a job!¨. This may be possible for some of the homeless, but it is nearly impossible for someone who suffers from severe mental illness. Mentalillnesspolicy.org states that the majority of the mentally ill homeless suffer from either schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder. Picture yourself right now, hungry, thirsty, underdressed, freezing, uncomfortable and likely sick. Now picture yourself in that same situation but suffering from symptoms of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, which include hallucinations, agitation, hearing voices, extreme depression, anxiety and hopelessness. It is impossible for you to truly understand but you get the general idea, and that is what about 125,000 Americans, or 25% of the 500,000 homeless are going through on a daily basis. Surely there is a program or charity to help this people out who suffer so greatly everyday.
Soup kitchens, shelters and assisted housing are the most common programs to fight homelessness but it is not efficient says my cousin Rachael Camhi. Dr.Camhi who has her phD in psychology seems to be right because homelessness has steadily increased since 1970. Providing the homeless with a place to stay and some food may offer some the opportunity to turn their life around but for for the mentally ill, it is only a way to keep them alive and there is more to life than just living. Dr. Camhi suggest an alternate path that she believes would be more effective and help assimilate the mentally ill and homeless into society where they can contribute. Dr. Camhi works in a school for mentally ill kids and has had a lot of experience dealing with their problems. Although many of the students at the school are not homeless, she feels homelessness is can be a result of mental illness. Therefore the solution would involve dealing with mental illness instead of homelessness. Dr. Camhi has discussed a potential multi step program to help the mentally ill and homeless.
There is no true first step to the program said Dr.Camhi. She feels multiple steps of the program could be implemented at the same time. In no specific order, she went through the details of each step to help get the mentally ill off the streets and assimilated into society where they can contribute.
There is a negative stigma in our society pertaining to both the mentally ill and the homeless. This stigma stems from a lack of knowledge towards both populations. Dr. Camhi believes ending this stigma is key to helping the mentally ill who live on the streets. She believes with more knowledge and understanding, more people will be aware and reach out to help. A nation wide stigma is a hard thing to change especially in the short term so Dr.Camhi focused on the long term. Since Dr. Camhi went through both undergraduate and graduate school with a focus on psychology, she knows how much knowledge most of society is lacking about mental illnesses. Dr.Camhi wants to start the education early and educate the youth. She feels if the kids are better informed, they won’t draw false conclusions or believe society’s stigmas. Therefore, Dr.Camhi believes one of the steps should be educating the society starting with the youth.
Dr.Camhi takes a more hands on approach in the next part of her program. Dr.Camhi believes we must go much farther than soup kitchens and shelter. The mentally ill need food and a place to stay but they really need psychological help and possibly medicine. Dr. Camhi wants to have psychologist present in shelters around the country to evaluate homeless people for signs of mental illness. Following evaluation, Dr.Camhi wants to provide more help for those who show signs of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. For the homeless who are diagnosed with a mental illness would be transferred to an institution where they can turn their lives around. Each case will be different depending on the disorder and the severity of their symptoms and the institution will deal with each person in a medically professional way. For those who suffer severely, the institution will provide the standard help and medication to improve the patient’s life as much as possible. Dr.Camhi suggest that for those who show improvement and a certain level of functionality, should be enlisted in a completely new program.
This new program will be focused on assimilating the patients into society. Each patient must be dealt with in different ways to cater to their issues but overall the goal would be to make these former homeless and mentally ill people become active participants in society. To do this, patients would be closely monitored at first and slowly gain freedom as they show progression. When patients are ready, they will be assigned certain responsibilities like a job, paying rent and participating in social functions. Psychologist will work closely with each patient and meet often. During these meetings, the psychologist will focus on further decreasing their symptoms and increasing their responsibilities and participation in society. When patients show they can be independant, they will be provided assisted housing where they will have to pay a negligible amount for rent and be required to update the institution on their status and continue to meet with their assigned psychologist.
The goal of this program is to slowly assimilate the mentally ill into society. To recap, they will first focusing on curing or decreasing their symptoms and slowly change the focus to participating in society and becoming independent. The overall goal is to cure these mentally ill people and help them live on their own off the streets. The program will face many problems with severe cases and drug use but will aim to help as many as it can.
A glaring issue of course is funding. Psychologist would have to be hired, institutions would either have to be built or expanded and cheap housing would have to be built. All of this would require taxes to be raise taxes but it may be less than you might expect, much less. According to PolitiFact.com, each homeless person cost taxpayers $40,000 annually. The $40,000 goes towards shelters, jails and hospital visits. “The thing we finally figured out is that it’s actually, not only better for people, but cheaper to solve homelessness than it is to put a band-aid on it,” said Secretary of U.S Department of Housing Shaun Donovan. According to secretary Donovan, it is actually be cheaper to supply help to the homeless. In other words, it is cheaper and more progressive to help the mentally ill homeless community. Not only will we be saving money, but we will be saving and improving lives.