Monday, February 26, 2018

Who are the homeless?

First, some facts for background and contextual information:
  • A comparatively few number of people with mental illness commit acts of violence.
  • The homeless problem is not due to the “de-institutionalization” of mental health patients.
  • While de-institutionalization or the “shuttering of mental hospitals” did occur from the late 1950s into the 1960s, we should recall that, 
[f]ar from being therapeutic, many of these hospitals were warehouses in which, say, schizophrenics would live alongside epileptics. Patients were often abused and rarely rehabilitated. When drugs that could control the delusions and psychoses of major mental illnesses came along, they were seen as a cheaper and more humane alternative to long-term, inpatient psychiatric care.” [I won’t here address the myriad problems we’ve since discovered about such drugs, noting merely that they have not, on the whole, proved to be an alternative to different forms of therapeutic treatment, even if, in some cases, and setting aside sundry side effects, they ameliorate some of the worst symptoms of severe forms of mental illness, such as psychosis.]
  • It is estimated that roughly one-third of the homeless suffer from some form of mental illness, roughly meaning that they are under current “mental distress” or have a history of psychiatric hospitalization.
  • Surveys of the homeless show that the “vast majority … are poor, just plain poor.” 
This brings us to the moral that motivated of our list of facts:

“Why do so many people accept the conclusion that homelessness is due to de-institutionalization of mental patients? [Notice that President Trump appears to believe there is at least an indirect (perhaps even direct) causal link between mass shootings and such “de-institutionalization.”] Search your memory for the homeless people you saw most recently. What were they like? The unobtrusive homeless person [e.g., the homeless family sleeping overnight in the camper truck parked on the church lot] is easily forgotten. We tend to remember the person who sings on the bus, who intrudes on passersby, who is drunk, or who is obviously high on some drug. Moreover, we prepare ourselves to behave in certain ways if such a person approaches us, such preparation being exactly the type of ancillary event that—as William Wagenaar points out—enhances recall leading to it. Hence our view of ‘the homeless’ is based on the memorable homeless [and the ‘availability heuristic’], people whose emotional and physical debilitation is so severe that it suggests that poverty alone cannot be the cause of their problems.”—From Reid Hastie and Robyn M. Dawes, Rational Choice in an Uncertain World: The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making (Sage Publications, 2001): 86-87.

I’m now prepared to share this excellent piece from the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board: “The homeless in L.A. are not who you think they are

“Many people think of homelessness as a problem of substance abusers and mentally ill people, of chronic skid row street-dwellers pushing shopping carts. But increasingly, the crisis in Los Angeles today is about a less visible (but more numerous) group of ‘economically homeless’ people. These are people who have been driven onto the streets or into shelters by hard times, bad luck and California’s irresponsible failure to address its own housing needs.” The rest is here.
Further Reading:
  • Abramsky, Sasha. The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives. New York: Nation Books, 2013.
  • Austen, Ben. High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing. New York: Harper, 2018.
  • Bender, Steven W. Tierra y Libertad: Land, Liberty, and Latino Housing. New York: New York University Press, 2010.
  • Desmond, Matthew. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. New York: Crown, 2016.
  • Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2001.
  • Failinger, Marie A. and Ezra Rosser, eds. The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases. Anne Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2016.
  • Goodin, Robert E. Reasons for Welfare: The Political Theory of the Welfare State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.
  • Goodin, Robert E., et al. The Real Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Hatcher, Daniel L. The Poverty Industry: The Exploitation of America’s Most Vulnerable Citizens. New York: New York University Press, 2010.
  • Hopper, Kim. Reckoning with Homelessness. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003.
  • Jusko, Karen Long. Who Speaks for the Poor? Electoral Geography, Party Entry, and Representation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
  • Kalleberg, Arne L. Good Jobs, Bad Jobs: The Rise of Polarized and Precarious Employment Systems in the United States 1970s to 2000s. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 201.
  • Kozol, Jonathan. Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988.
  • Liebow, Elliot. Tell Them Who I Am: Lives of Homeless Women. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.
  • O’Flaherty, Brendan. Making Room: The Economics of Homelessness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.
  • Pugh, Allison J. The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • Rhode, Deborah L. Access to Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2017.
  • Sherman, Jennifer. Those Who Work, Those Who Don’t: Poverty, Morality, and Family in Rural America. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.
  • Shipler, David K. The Working Poor: Invisible in America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.


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