Photo by SamPac via Flickr

With the burgeoning of the Occupy movement, many cities are being forced to at least acknowledge if not deal with what continues to be a repugnant mark of failure of this country – homelessness.

As Occupiers camp out in various city centers, many homeless are gravitating towards the sites, some hoping for food, some for heat or shelter, and some for the company and the opportunity to add their voices as those who’ve been laid prostrate to what can be a callous and sadistic system of inequality and indifference in a country that has the resources necessary to address the problem, yet lacks the courage or ability to do so.

First and foremost to the Occupiers, please help these people to the ability that you’re able.  I know resources are scant, and they represent another challenge in the movement, but these people are the ones who’ve endured the full force of the very inequality and injustice that you’re fighting against – their voices must be heard, too.

A Broken System

It’s been said many times, in many different ways by many people, but remains true –

The best measure of any society is how it treats its weakest members.

According to 2009 figures (the most recent I was able to find) from the National Coalition for the Homeless, Mental Illness was the third largest cause of homelessness.

It’s a brutal Catch-22 that not only the homeless find themselves in, but many others as well – how can you get a job to get Health Insurance to ‘be healthy’ if you’re not healthy enough, physically or mentally, to get and maintain a job that gives you access to health care, in the first place?

While Medicaid programs exist for low income people, those are being savaged by cutbacks at the federal and state levels.  And many homeless lack the documentation, or the resources necessary to simply get across town to the offices to go through the myriad bureaucracies to even apply – while many of those mentally ill homeless, aren’t even cognizant of the scant resources that are available.

This For-Profit Healthcare system, like the For-Profit Prison system, is an abhorrent insult to the very humanity that this society professes to possess an abundance of.

The only embarrassment greater than the For-Profit Healthcare system is the access to Mental Health services, that dwells within it.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health only 6% of Americans suffer from ‘serious’ mental illness, yet you’ll find that Anti-Depressants always rank in the top 2 or 3 of types of medications prescribed.

The difference between a soccer-mom popping Valium or Prozac and pounding merlot, and a homeless person seeking an hour of two of escape in a bottle of Thunderbird is a matter of a few degrees – those degrees often being access to healthcare, and the income necessary to access that healthcare.  Yet society congratulates and sympathizes with one, and spits on the other.

After ‘Lack of Affordable Housing’ – which in a country with tens of thousands of homes literally sitting vacant and decaying with a ‘Foreclosed’ sign sitting in the front yard is its own sad commentary – ‘Substance Abuse is cited as the other leading cause of homelessness.

This separating of ‘Substance Abuse’ and ‘Mental Illness’ may be convenient, and perhaps even necessary for Psychologists and Psychiatrists, however it’s been co-opted by the Conservative set, in order to slap  a derogatory label on what is often times an outcropping of that Mental Illness, not its own end.

In 2007 Anti-Depressants were the most prescribed class of medication.  This year, however, Opioids now hold the top spot.  This bullshit differentiation between the Soccer mom on Valium for her anxiety and Percocet for her back pain, and the vilification of the homeless man with a fifth of wine, needs to end.

There is a serious mental health crisis in this country, and the most vulnerable to that crisis, wind up on the streets.

Do people honestly believe most ‘junkies’ enjoy their existence as junkies?

Or is it more likely that these ‘junkies’ are simply trying to alleviate the symptoms of the mental illness itself?

I would imagine an hour or two of silence in a Schizophrenic mind is a rare and blessed occurrence – and if they can’t access the proper medications to achieve that from a health care provider, they’ll find it another way.  And I don’t blame them for that.  But that’s just me.

On its most ugly and practical face, mental health issues are a losing proposition for Health Insurance companies – it’s not a broken leg or flu virus, treatable with a visit or two to the doctor.  At best it’s about ‘managing’ a problem long-term, and that takes a big chunk out of the Insurance companies’ bottom line.

The correlation between the dearth of resources for those even financially able to access them, and the profitability of treating mental health issues, as well as this county’s desire to sweep yet another embarrassing  set of issues under the carpet has yielded another glaring reason to revamp a broken Healthcare System.  I genuinely hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think the new Health Care Law will do enough to address these issues, either.

Make no mistake – lack of affordable healthcare is a serious contributor to the issue of homelessness, in this country – whether it’s a family bankrupted by medical bills or a man suffering from schizophrenia or tuberculosis.

– Despite accounting for only 34% of the population, 40% of homeless men are veterans.

We must do better, not only for them, but for all homeless.

They deserve better.

National Coalition for the Homeless

National Alliance to End Homelessness

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Healthcare-Now Single-Payer Advocates

Physicians for a National Health Program