Do you think the homeless population with diagnosable severe mental illness (SMI) should be institutionalized the way it used to be 50 or 60 years ago in this country? How to solve the homeless problem is a hot topic of conversation as we head into the colder months and the holidays. It’s also a civics and citizenship issue that affects us all. Let’s talk about it.
In 1962, the U.S. population was about 180 million. The severely mentally ill in public psychiatric hospitals numbered 560,000 that same year. The thinking then, and for the next 20 years, was to release this special needs population back into their communities and families for care. The asylum facilities (the word used at that time) were decaying, decrepit, understaffed, and overpopulated.
Today, our population is around 335 million, with about 50 million SMI people institutionalized. I heard this statistic quoted twice but can’t confirm the number. The point being made today is that we should reconsider reconstructing federal properties with updated facilities to help the SMI population. Scenes from around the country on the nightly news bring the topic to the light.
My Sister’s Experience
I asked my sister, who has worked with the homeless population for over ten years if she thinks we should place the segment of the homeless population with SMI in federal institutions (hospitals). She clearly distinguished between what one of her homeless acquaintances called “street people” and criminals. Street people come to shelters funded by communities, churches, donations, etc. My sister said her city provided the homeless with apartments, but they did not thrive
because street people need their people, not isolation.
Not all homeless have a severe mental illness, according to my sister. One of her bible study participants was a NYTimes author; another, a physician; others are educated with formerly successful careers. Mostly, they think deeply and communicate simple truths in safe environments. Criminals, on the other hand, prey on innocent victims because they are often untreated SMI people.
So, given that our country used to house and care for SMI people and that big government has a track record of unsolved social problems, I’m inclined to lean into state aid for local facilities that update their services to assist the SMI population. I do not think family is off the hook, so to speak. Where and to the extent that it is possible, the family bears the responsibility to help a relative in need, even if indirectly. It isn’t easy (I know), but neither is ignoring the problem or passing it on to the government- which is you, me, and our neighbors.
How do you think we can solve the homeless problem for those with SMI?
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship. 🇺🇸
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