My thinking for this post started with a bit of a rant about political correctness. Triggered in turn by a comment on an internet site who created a character who was homeless and mentally ill, of perpetuating stereotypes of homeless people as having mental illnesses and being drug and/or alcohol addicts. Sadly I do not remember exactly what the person said, but it puzzled me somewhat.
The first thought I had was that when I think about people being derogatory toward homeless people is the accusation of laziness and the need for hard work/a job. The second was that a large proportion of homeless people have addictions and/or mental illnesses, and the third was that in a way the remark could in a way be construed as saying that it was right to dismiss people who are mentally ill or addicted, but that there were deserving individuals out there who were homeless for no fault of their own.
To sum up, my response internally was that although I understand that it is a good thing to see people as people and not stereotypes, it is important not to whitewash the problems of homeless people, because they need to be addressed in helping the homeless. After all, mental illness and addiction can adversely affect people's ability to hold down a job or a house, particularly without proper support. Which they should have. And I disliked what I felt was a kind of stigma associated with mental illness implicit in the remark... Maybe I was being overly sensitive.
I guess talking about these things is difficult, I feel the need to clarify- I don't think that everyone with a mental illness is homeless or unable to hold down a job, since I can clearly see that this is not so, and I don't think that everyone who is homeless is mentally ill. Or addicted to drugs or alcohol. I don't think that everyone who is mentally ill takes drugs or drinks, or vice versa. Have I covered all my bases? Have I been offensive? Let me know if I have, I will try to address it.
Alrighty then. According to ABS statistics from 2007 54% of people who have ever been homeless have a mental illness, compared to 20% of all Australians. There could be a few reasons for this high proportion- one is to do with Government reform which left a large number of mentally ill people without proper care or resources. Then there are the effects of living homeless, and the effects of life events that make people homeless. I found it harder to find drug and alcohol stats... But I hear the proportion is high. So what should we do with this information/ We should help the homeless. Provide better mental health and rehab facilities. Homelessness can happen to anyone. Yeah...
Really you should read this blog: Micaiah Sells Out. It really says it all a lot better than I do... It's written by a Christian guy (my friend's little brother actually) with a social work degree and a job at Mission Australia working with homeless people. Which makes him better qualified to talk about homelessness than me.
And I found this story touching- it's about a one-time pop star, now aged, who has experienced mental illness, homelessness and alcoholism... I didn't save the link, but I found it on SMH:
Depression has been a constant companion for Cave. Uncomfortable in the company of strangers, panic attacks have been a regular feature of his life. Even in his heyday, he says, he would get nervous for days before appearing on stage. Tragically, these problems would eventually bring him into the orbit of notorious psychiatrist Dr Harry Bailey, the man at the centre of the Chelmsford Hospital scandal in which many patients died during, or committed suicide after, Bailey's unregulated experimental techniques.
Cave blames Chelmsford for much of his physical and mental decline over the next few years. In the 1980s his alcoholism and mental illness accelerated until he found himself sleeping in the toilets opposite the St George Leagues Club in Kogarah.
“If it wasn't for the people at the club, I wouldn't be here. They looked after me, gave me breakfast and kept an eye on me. I'd be dead if it wasn't for their kindness.”