Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Severe Mental Illness, Homelessness & Choice (or lack thereof)

The San Bernardino Sun offers a poignant profile of and commentary on a homeless encampment in Ontario, California.

One of the commentators is Manuel Aybar, identified as a mental health consultant and a person who has seemingly been involved in projects to aid the homeless population in San Bernardino. "Mental illness is not synonymous with homelessness," Aybar asserts …. "most people who are homeless choose to have that lifestyle."

That is undoubtedly the case for some. But for approximately one-third of the chronic homeless, the condition is far less a choice of lifestyle and far more a symptom of illness. The reporter found convincing evidence of that in her visit to the tent city.

One woman sat hunched over, yelling and swearing into a cell phone. "I'm wondering how lazy you are." "Stop dragging on all day!"

The phone wasn’t working.

Two yards away, a 36-year-old man exclaimed, "You go to the one-hour photo. You go look at the clothes. ... You go to the motel because once you stay at the motel your lens is gonna change."

His response when asked if he had any mental health issues: "Someone is gonna take your blood and drink it. My cholesterol was going up. Now I want to get a place to stay and sleep for a while, but every time I go anywhere the Mexicans follow me.”

He eventually added that he’d been diagnosed with “schizophrenic manic-depressive. ... But I take care of my pops. ..."

Consultant Aybar was reluctant to link mental illness to homelessness; he stressed that “the choice to be homeless is not necessarily a sign of mental illness.” True – not necessarily, but that only highlights the need to help those who have no choice or even the ability to choose.