Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Homeless shelters are the new mental health facilities

Roughly 150,000 to 200,000 individuals with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are homeless. In the absence of psychiatric hospitals, homeless shelters are yet another example - along with jails and prisons- of today’s “mental hospitals”.
Out on the streets, people with mental illness and addiction problems are guaranteed neither a home, food, health nor safety.

As [Dennis] Marble [executive director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter] and many others see it, the morphing of the homeless shelter into what Marble calls an "underfunded mental health facility" is one of the unintended consequences of the "downsizing" of the state’s mental health institutions, including Bangor Mental Health Institute, now known as the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center.

A major complaint of the critics of deinstitutionalization was that adequate community resources were not put into place to support patients after their release. As a result, many did and still do wind up in homeless shelters or jails, which are increasingly hard-pressed to house them adequately.

"I look at some of the folks who come here and it’s pure and simple — they can’t [fend for themselves]," Marble said. "And for me to say the right thing for them is to live their lives in this shelter and that’s their choice? That ends up ringing hollow really fast."

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