By Dr. Chad Audi
A 2007 survey of 23 cities — conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors — revealed 30% of the homeless population have a mental illness. According to the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, approximately 60% of chronically homeless people in the Detroit area have underlying issues of mental illness and/or substance abuse.
Mental disorders prevent people from doing everyday things like going to work and school or taking care of a home and family. The closings of psychiatric hospitals over several years, diminishing community-based programs and outpatient services, and a lack of affordable housing options leave the mentally ill with no place to go and no hope of getting better. Many are distrustful or too afraid to seek help and react irrationally toward those trying to help. This pushes them into a life on the streets. The Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM) reaches out to those with mental health issues by partnering with other agencies such as the Detroit Health Department to provide medical and social services assistance to some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
A movie depicting mental health issues among the homeless opens in theaters later this month. “The Soloist” is based on a true story and features actor Jamie Foxx as a brilliant musician suffering from mental illness and homelessness. He is befriended by a Los Angeles Times columnist, played by Robert Downey Jr., who helps him fulfill his dreams. The movie promises to show how a seemingly hopeless life can be altered for the better.
Although there are many reasons why individuals end up living on the streets, mental illness is prevalent among the homeless population. People with mental disorders require ongoing access to treatment and rehabilitation services. They are human beings who should be treated with dignity and respect. As represented in “The Soloist,” many homeless people already have amazing skills that just need to be nurtured and enhanced. They simply require our support and encouragement.
By Dr. Chad Audi
In a recent blog, I mentioned the “tent city” in Sacramento, which has come to represent a particularly disturbing reality of our depressed economy. At last count, about 150 homeless people have set up tents along the banks of the American River. Now comes word that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is pledging to find state money to help Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson close the tent city and relocate the homeless to an expanded shelter on the state’s fairgrounds and to other local shelters and longer-term housing units. The cost to close the encampment by the end of April: $1 million.
Of course, the biggest concern among local and state officials is to make sure the homeless tent dwellers are moved to a safer, healthier environment where they have access to hot meals, fresh water and vital services. The tent city is being looked at as a new “symbol” of homelessness. It garnered even more national and international attention when Oprah Winfrey recently broadcast a segment about the encampment. Media from around the world converged on the tent city with cameras in tow. Many of the homeless did not understand what made their habitat such a “spectacle.” And believe it or not, some of the tent dwellers are reluctant to leave because they fear what type of environment they will be placed in, the rules they will have to follow, and what will happen after the fairgrounds shelter shuts down at the end of June.
This situation in California greatly illustrates the critical need for a permanent solution to homelessness. It is a chronic problem, further exacerbated by growing job layoffs and record home foreclosures. People are being pushed to the brink, finding themselves in situations they never imagined. At the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM), we are focusing on this expanded makeup of the homeless population and how we can set things in motion for their futures by offering a more permanent solution. We cannot look away and pretend homelessness is not on the rise. Desperate times call for desperate measures.