Oh, For Feck's Sake – the Drug Addict/Mentally Ill Question. Again.

Okie dokie.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, because there’s nothing more infuriating to me than when an article misquotes me or people begin making wild, unfounded assumptions/speculations as to my philosophy on homelessness without evidence, or without actually reading anything I’ve ever written about homelessness…especially based on the way I look or speak or the color of my skin or what I’m able to cram into a five-minute interview.

I do not believe that homeless individuals who struggle with substance abuse and/or mental illness are less deserving of assistance.  In fact, I believe that they are far more in need of it than someone like me, who is able to pull herself up by her bootstraps.  They don’t have bootstraps to pull themselves up by at all.  They’re often not in a position or frame of mind to do so, or even to realize that they need help, or to want help when it’s offered.  It doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve it.  Believe me, I get it.  I’ve had close encounters with both drugs and mental illness in my immediate family.  Plus, do we ever really know how often it’s a “chicken or the egg” situation?  Do we really know how many homeless people became homeless due to drug addiction and how many became addicts due to trying to cope with the intense depression and isolation that homelessness entails?  These are reasons why you will never see me judge a homeless person by their past or their current vices.

When I quote statistics from government studies about the actual number of homeless people struggling with mental illness/substance abuse being a comparatively low number, and say that I myself do not do drugs or have a mental illness (though I’m certainly dealing with plenty of other personal demons of my own), I am saying it because it’s a fact that many more cynical individuals need to hear, not because I am in any way disparaging the mentally ill/substance abusers, or inferring that they don’t deserve help and treatment.  My primary objective is, and always has been, to challenge misconceptions, myths, and stereotypes about homelessness.  It’s sad, but true, that there is a stigma to drug addiction and mental illness, and many feel that:

A) ”all homeless people are either crazy or druggies”; and

B)  human beings dealing with such issues “got themselves where they are and deserve what they get”.

Neither of these statements is accurate.  For many people, before they can even get around to reversing Opinion B, and viewing these homeless people as actual humans with faces and feelings and backstories…they must first get past Opinion A.  There are plenty of people out there who, if I did have problems with drugs or illness, would be skeptical of trusting anything that I had to say regarding homelessness.

I’m just one girl, one backstory, one facet of homelessness (and yes, check either the dictionary definition of homelessness or the federal definition of homelessness if you want to argue that I’m “not really homeless”, because “mobile homeless” like me are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, with the recession).  Though I currently consider myself in something of a “limbo” state and have been so incredibly, remarkably lucky to have been handed a platform to talk about homelessness, there are thousands – nay, millions – more out there, each with a different backstory, each a different perspective on homelessness.  I tell my story in the hopes that I can raise awareness and maybe connect with a few people, get them thinking, and tell them “hey, you know what?  Homeless people are just like you.  They are a wide array of very smart, cool people with feelings to share and talents to offer and stories to tell.”  In the meantime, I personally do not care if 100% of homeless people are on drugs or mentally ill; they are still human beings in need of treatment, and contrary to popular opinion, nobody deserves to be left in the lurch.  Nobody deserves to be homeless.

Not everybody feels that way, though.  I would love to convince them otherwise.  But I’ve gotta point out to them that not all homeless people fall within their predefined ideas of “icky” or “wrong”, that homeless people are just like them, that I/we could be their mother, their sister, their daughter, their friend…so that they’ll actually listen to what I’ve got to say, first.

Make sense?

Comments

  1. Bri, so sorry to hear that you have been misquoted – ugh! Am very grateful that you posted more about the stigma facing folks, who are experiencing homelessness. In fact, the last time I was homeless (in Ojai, California during the winter of 2006-07), I ran across a young man, who specifically told me,”I’m not homeless because I’m an alcoholic, I became an alcoholic due to being homeless.” The experience can certainly bring one to their knees.

    In reference to those of us who have been homeless, but who do not have substance abuse or debilitating mental illness issues, here’s what I think happens in the minds of those judging us. They see that we are homeless & right away an alarm goes off in their heads “Something is wrong with this situation & thus, with this person.” And, actually, it is true, something is wrong. But what is wrong is not drugs or delusion, its simply the fact that our present income is not enough to be able to afford housing and our systems have failed (assistance of family, friends, Houses of Worship – which should be a reflection on them, not us). Because people, who are housed cannot imagine that they would ever be homeless (or are afraid to imagine it), they have to come up w/ reasons for it that are not similar to their own situation (thus, it must be drugs or mental illness).

    My two cents. Thanks for the post, Bri!

  2. I have decided to rebrand the car/van/ camper housed as turtlehomeless as in homeless with a semiportable shell.

    I too am sick of hering how people aren’t really homeless because they have (insert substandard housing alternative here ) or that they chose to live that way. Yup and a shelter floor mat is a better choice er yeah right.

    • @reb

      I hear you. I always feel like telling people that if they think living in a vehicle/trailer in a parking lot is so great and counts as normal, habitable housing…then they should feel free to try it. Long term, not just for a weekend camping trip. I sure wouldn’t have minded switching places with them ;)

  3. I believe that 90% of Americans are always just a few paychecks from being homeless, but they don’t understand that either. You’ve got people with $20K in credit card debt, $30K in new car debt, $200K in new house debt, plus utilities, groceries, insurance etc. If they miss a month of work due to an unexpected illness, they would lose it all.

  4. Liv and Sidsel says:

    Hello!!
    We are two girls from Denmark, and we just wanna say, that our class use your blog in our english-lessons, and we have to write an essay about you and your blog ;) You deserved to know it :)

    Nice blog, by the way!

    Hugs from Liv and Sidsel- DK.

  5. Hi Liv and Sidsel,

    Wow! o.O I don’t even know what to say. I feel so honored.

    Tak! Nyd din uge! (I hope I said that correctly)
    ~Bri

  6. ~Bri, I think that folks may be missing the point that when an RV is not “hooked up” (or if one is living in their car)there are no facilities (running water, working toilet, electricity) and its worse than camping, cuz you aren’t either in a campground, where there are toilets/showers/etc. or out in the woods w/ access to the great outdoors (one can’t just go to the bathroom on the asphalt!). A parking lot is just that – a massively difficult place to function!

    Of course, having been unhoused both with & without a vehicle, it is definitely easier with one, but more complicated as far as where to safely park it. The other point is that one cannot just sleep in their vehicle or park it anywhere for a length of time without getting ticketed.

    What fun that you have readers in Denmark! Although, the language on this blog can get rather raunchy – hmmm…that will be an interesting twist for their new English skills!!! Hopefully, these are college students! (if not, as a former educator myself, I don’t know what their teacher is thinking).

    Hey Bri, how do I get a photo up on here – am not liking the black box – kindly advise…

  7. Cynthia, you can upload a photo for your avatar at http://en.gravatar.com/

    Whichever picture you choose should propagate through your web comments within a few minutes or a couple of hours at most.

    I definitely agree with you on the vehicle thing. Nobody’s saying that it’s not much better/safer/more useful to be homeless with a vehicle than without one…but you’re still homeless, nonetheless.

    As for the language; I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the teachers know which words are more colorful. Of course, they’re in Europe, so they might be much less Puritan about it than many people here in the U.S.!

  8. Vicki Day says:

    Ignorant , bigoted folk will always throw rocks and they just don’t get that one slip of the rung on the ladder and your off it – in a country like the UK I can understand this as we have free healthcare and benefits but in the US where just a few bumps in the road can cause a crash and burn they should be more understanding.

    After reading the comments on You Tube on Invisible People TV I now think it’s the real mentally ill leaving the comments ( go on throw a rock at me )
    No one should be left behind in my view on free health and good housing it’s a basic human right regardless of who or what you are.

  9. MotherLodeBeth says:

    For the sake of education, can we discuss just how long should one expect others to help them, when they have chosen a lifestyle that included distructive behavior? Am NOT speaking of the mentally ill. Am speaking of those who have chosen to drink or do drugs. I know that there came a day after my husband died that I woke up and REALLY wanted to lose weight, get healthy and change negative choices into something positive. And this meant I had to put on my big girl pants and choose to stop making poor choices. And yes…it was and still is hard some days, but I stay with the good and ignore the bad.

    And I think that when someone offers ‘you’ (generic you) that you should not take the help unless you are willing to do your part. And this means that we as a society must have some empthay for those in need and maybe think outside the box when it comes to helping them. Not every one will want to live a 9-5 life, with a regular roof over their head etc. Some people do better living out of doors or off the beaten path and as such need safe housing like a one room cabin, or a safe place to camp.

  10. MotherLodeBeth says:

    Mary McK wrote that she believes that 90% of Americans are always just a few paychecks from being homeless, but they don’t understand that either. You’ve got people with $20K in credit card debt, $30K in new car debt, $200K in new house debt, plus utilities, groceries, insurance etc. If they miss a month of work due to an unexpected illness, they would lose it all.

    Have NO sympathy for someone who has chosen to become materialistic and has chosen to live beyond their means and then they wake up one day and discover they are due to lose their home and alas are on the edge of becoming homeless. These wannabe well off types are NOT like the family/person who has lived below their means, has saved money, and then found themselves either facing a serious illness with medical coverage that doesnt cover everything, or a job that is being phased out.

    People who have done ALL they could to NOT become a financial mess are the ones who will get help from me. Most are also the type who dont expect others to bail them out, but simply need a hand up until they get back on their feet.

  11. meisjemeisje says:

    Hi Bri,

    I’ve discovered your blog about 2 or 3 days ago. Since then I’ve been reading ALL of it. From day 1 up to today. Well the day before yesterday that would be now ;-)

    I’m so inspired by your story, your strength, your intelligence. Today I read in the paper (live in The Netherlands, Europe) that an union has been set up for the homeless people over here. It immediately reminded me of your story so I wanted to check up today. And leave a comment. That even though I don’t live in the US, I still read your story and can’t wait until your book is launched! Will have to find a way to get it here ;-)

    Well, I guess that’s all. I’m inspired. Even as a newly graduated university student, who is jobless at the time. But I’ll find a way :) I’m sure.

    I wish you all the best, truly, from my heart. And I’ll be sure to stop by once in a while to catch up on your blogs. Take good care!

  12. I just wanted to thank you for this post. Thank you for mentioning those who have been grabbed by the cold grip of drugs aren’t necessarily bad people, homeless or otherwise. I am one of the “otherwise.” Recovered and moving on, I have actually begun to enjoy my life more than I did before the drugs. That is my silver lining :)

    Good job on the blog, btw!

  13. Few things are more inspirational than browsing through your post here after a long day. Your fresh insight keeps me, and surely others, motivated and informed about Homeless People. Don’t ever stop posting like this one on homeless mental problems, ok?

  14. Heather says:

    Well, I know this is an older post I’m commenting on, but I’ve just discovered your blog, and wanted to comment on this particular subject. You stated: “They’re often not in a position or frame of mind to do so, or even to realize that they need help, or to want help when it’s offered. It doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve it.” I agree that they deserve help, but if they don’t want the help, what is it you’re advocating for? Forcing them to accept help? I have difficulty comprehending this.

    I spent a year and a half homeless in Fremont, California. During that time, the only homeless person I met who did not have problems with drug or alcohol addiction was the one I was already in a relationship with before we both lost our temp jobs. It’s disheartening. I kept asking myself what was wrong with us that we ended up in the same place as a bunch of people who would gladly stab me in the back for a few bucks. I’m not stating this because it was merely my perception. These people were vicious. When I first became homeless I thought that when I got out of it, I’d be advocating & helping homeless people like you are, but after my boyfriend and I were severely beaten simply because a drunken person we thought was a friend decided to lose it (and honestly we still aren’t sure what prompted it, though I assume he felt it was our fault for refusing to drive him somewhere when I got arrested for public drunkenness)… black eyes, bruises, cracked ribs, and a failure on the part of the justice system has led me to have very little sympathy for the “rough sleeper” types. Indeed your situation is better than theirs; while you’re still homeless you have something more than they have. I was technically “mobile homeless” & that was the root of the issue. Other homeless people felt they were somehow entitled to my driving them wherever they wanted me to just because I had a car. That kind of attitude just pushes away those who would otherwise gladly help.

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this comment… I guess I just wanted to share my story, as it lends a rather different perspective.

    • Midknight says:

      I have been homeless and never felt any kind of “bond” with most other homeless people. Like you stated in your post, because you owned a vehicle, most had the attitude you owed them something. If anything I avoided other homeless people and cliques for this very reason. I didn’t then and never will feel I owe a homeles person anything. To be perfectly honest I felt more disgust than sympathy for the loser mentality I encountered. How to obtain a regular supply of alcohol and or drugs was the only goal for the day, week, monthh or whatever. Some will try to force or rob anything they can get. I kept a .45 within reach at all times and would not have hesitated to use it. I don’t know the types of people who are homeless in all parts of the country but 90% of the ones I encountered were losers who assumed the world owed them something. 10%, if that, were genuinley decent people who fell on hard times. Those, I would gladly share anything I had.

  15. Heather says:

    Posting this again to fix a typo (oops!):

    Well, I know this is an older post I’m commenting on, but I’ve just discovered your blog, and wanted to comment on this particular subject. You stated: “They’re often not in a position or frame of mind to do so, or even to realize that they need help, or to want help when it’s offered. It doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve it.” I agree that they deserve help, but if they don’t want the help, what is it you’re advocating for? Forcing them to accept help? I have difficulty comprehending this.

    I spent a year and a half homeless in Fremont, California. During that time, the only homeless person I met who did not have problems with drug or alcohol addiction was the one I was already in a relationship with before we both lost our temp jobs. It’s disheartening. I kept asking myself what was wrong with us that we ended up in the same place as a bunch of people who would gladly stab me in the back for a few bucks. I’m not stating this because it was merely my perception. These people were vicious. When I first became homeless I thought that when I got out of it, I’d be advocating & helping homeless people like you are, but after my boyfriend and I were severely beaten simply because a drunken person we thought was a friend decided to lose it (and honestly we still aren’t sure what prompted it, though I assume he felt it was our fault for refusing to drive him somewhere when he got arrested for public drunkenness)… black eyes, bruises, cracked ribs, and a failure on the part of the justice system has led me to have very little sympathy for the “rough sleeper” types. Indeed your situation is better than theirs; while you’re still homeless you have something more than they have. I was technically “mobile homeless” & that was the root of the issue. Other homeless people felt they were somehow entitled to my driving them wherever they wanted me to just because I had a car. That kind of attitude just pushes away those who would otherwise gladly help.

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this comment… I guess I just wanted to share my story, as it lends a rather different perspective.

Speak Your Mind

*