Main image
1st July
2009
written by naehblog

So, to kick things off, here’s a nice, soft introduction into how we got where we are today:

Homelessness has been around pretty much since there were more people than homes (read: a long, long time). A number of national and economic events (anyone remember the Great Depression?) prompted bursts of homelessness from time to time, but local and federal authorities usually answered the need. Homelessness as we know it today surged around the 1980s.

Why the 80s? Good question.

Perhaps the most sensationalized – and one of the more controversial – cause of modern-day homelessness is deinstitutionalization.

The 1950s and 1960s saw a wave of activism against mental health institutions as reports of neglect, abuse, and mistreatment in such facilities became commonplace. The goal of deinstitutionalization was to move people who are mentally ill and disabled from these institutions into community-based health centers, where they would be fewer restrictions on patients and a lesser financial burden to federal and state coffers. (Popular opinion seems to fault President Reagan for deinstitionalization, but my own research has not validated that opinion.) Many argue that the effort has been unsuccessful, and that people who are mentally ill are now housed in the criminal justice system or are homeless altogether.

As a result, some say that deinstitutionalization, coupled with decreasing availability of affordable housing and economic fluctuations (and a plethora of other factors), caused the homeless population to rise considerably in the late 20th century.

Other populations joined this group later – those with addiction, victims of financial distress, veterans, etc.

As the homeless population grew, places where people were freely allowed to roam became more restricted: churches, public restrooms, libraries, museums – these places all closed their doors, hired security, and/or otherwise made efforts to reduce the number of homeless people in their buildings. This forced the homeless population to bridges, tunnels, parks, sidewalks – many of the places we see them today.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that since the 1980s, there have been efforts – though fragmented – to address, prevent, reduce, and ultimately end homelessness. And the even better news is that these fragmented efforts have started producing real results. Between 2005 and 2007, homelessness fell 10 percent. This is because we’ve finally started figuring out what works. We know how to end homelessness and sometimes how to prevent it altogether.

How, you ask? That’s another post.

In the meantime, let us know what you think about the role of deinstitutionalization on the homelessness population. How has it contributed to homelessness? Was it good/bad/horrible idea? What can we do about it – and the chronically homeless population?

Feel free to let us know.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous
    09/06/2010

    In nursing school, I learned that approximately half of all homeless have schizophrenia. This is an extremely high amount of people who likely are unable to function due to causes they did not choose. To be debilitated often means the inability to function well enough to pay bills, take necessary medications, to hold a job, and be able to have funds and/or the where-with-all to eat three meals a day.

    It seems to me that there needs to be a system where people with any mental illness can recieve assistance to take their prescribed meds and to monitor that the meds are working and/or are at the right dose without them being "drugged out;" assist them to pay their bills and to not overspend so they can have electricity, water, housing, etc; and to assist them to have dignity and a "normal" every day life.

    If these services are highly monitored, it would reduce the amount of abuse that could incur. People matter. We are all human beings. We must learn to care about every human being to ensure all have equal opportunity for a life worth living. If we make sure that abuse and/or taking advantage of systems that are in place to provide the homeless and/or mentally ill access to services, we can ensure that every individual has the opportunity for dignity and peace of mind.