Tim Smith | Fund Mental Health Treatment to Combat HomelessnessContributor September 5, 2018 1 COMMENT
The city of Santa Clarita is abuzz with talk about how to combat homelessness. Nobody, it seems, is unsympathetic to the cause. Debates will soon flare up between the left and right about who sympathizes with the plight of the homeless more.
Yet there seem to be no solutions on the table for how to combat the issue other than to put it out of sight and out of mind. Recent legislation by Santa Clarita City Council against loitering has sparked newfound interest in the issue of homelessness but long-term progress is far from occurring for one reason: nobody seems to know why these people become homeless in the first place. We must address the causes, rather than the symptoms, to combat this problem.
The fact is that many of the homeless residents of Los Angeles County are either mentally ill, addicted to drugs, or both. It is absurd to suggest that expanding public housing without regard to the needs of the inhabitants will solve the issue in any substantial way. What we need is a greater public understanding of the mental health needs of millions of American citizens who suffer from these disorders. An estimated 30 percent of Los Angeles’s homeless population suffers from mental illness. It is well-documented that this can then lead to alcohol and drug abuse as medication often remains unaffordable. The people that suffer from these debilitating illnesses do not deserve to be ignored or stigmatized for their inability to remove themselves from a situation they had no part in creating.
For many decades in the United States, psychiatric hospitals were used to house those who suffered from psychotic disorders. In 1954, the first anti-psychotic drugs came into existence, promising hope for those suffering from these disorders. Then in 1963, sweeping reforms culminated in the Community Mental Health Care Act, which led to the creation of community health centers across the country. These actions contributed to rapid deinstitutionalization of mental health patients and gave the country hope for those suffering from schizophrenia and other severe disorders. Yet in the 1980s, the budget for community and state mental health care programs in the United States was cut severely, leading to an enormous level of untreated patients. According to PBS, it is now estimated that 2.2 million severely mentally ill Americans receive no psychiatric care and that many of them have either gone to prison or become homeless as a result.
It is important to recognize the fact that severe mental illness is not necessarily the only cause of homelessness. Extreme cases of poverty, lack of family support, and drug abuse are often involved, and can all coincide with untreated psychotic disorders as root causes of the problem. Nevertheless, what differentiates the issue of severe psychosis from the others is that it has nothing to do with the willpower or decisions of those who suffer from it.
While the other root causes of homelessness are sometimes, and to varying degrees, the result of life decisions, mental health disorders are out of the control of their recipients entirely. The prevalence of addictive drugs to self-medicate by those who suffer from mental illness is further evidence to suggest that properly treating psychotic disorders will dramatically improve the situation. The way to do this is to properly fund community mental health centers and to ensure these individuals are treated and supported by their communities. We need to come to the realization that this situation is not going away, and the sooner we begin addressing the root causes of homelessness, the sooner our city can change itself for the better.