Mental health issues impact all people equally. Volunteering with the homeless changed my outlook that mental illness was an elderly affliction primarily. Seeing it affect all ages was a startling revelation.
Homeless in Suburbia
Suffolk County, Long Island is a suburb of New York with a population of 1.5 million. Newsday estimates that 2500 people are homeless, 50% being children. Volunteering at a shelter in 2010 enabled me a to form an opinion which mirrors law enforcement’s, Drug addiction is a major influence of homelessness. Many people affected by mental illness walk the streets of the nation including rural America. Some started out mentally ill, the streets drove the others. The one common thread that most homeless share is their loss of hope.
Addiction vs Mental Health
Identifying the cause is the first step. Mental illness and addiction sometime find each other. There is no way to separate the two without prioritizing which problem is more severe and treating that one first. Empathy, compassion, and patience allow for the establishment of trust. People feel shame regardless of their stigma, but trust will allow for communication. No cure can be offered, no addiction problem conquered without dialogue. Once the afflicted trust a caregiver, the path to recovery becomes hopeful. Once hope is restored, the process of healing the body and mind can begin. Once health of the body and mind are restored, then plans to become productive members of society can be laid out. The path to heal the spirit comes into focus. Soon body, mind, and spirit will be back in harmony. But here is the next obstacle. The final hurdle rehabilitating the homeless arises when they have recovered from their maladies. Society loses interest in them as a person would free a bird that healed it’s broken wing. They are no longer mentally ill nor are they addicted. They are just homeless. The government has no plan for helping anyone overcome that alone. Now, they are healthy homeless sure to regress quickly if a life line isn’t thrown to them.
Outreach for the homeless
Where the government stops, private charities start. Some of the organizations below can help a homeless person find a job, temporary shelter, clothing, purchase of toiletries, registering help to get food stamps, bus pass issuance, computers, telephones and resume building help to speed up the job hunt process, etc. Direct handouts normally don’t happen as these organizations subscribe to the saying, “Feed a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”
- Catholic Charities
- St. Vincent de Paul
- Salvation Army
- Alliance for Children and Families
- United Way
- Save Our Children
These are national listings. Click the links above to find a local agency near you to help someone you see that needs help. Reaching out is the first step. So the next time, someone asks you for change. Give them change but not the kind that sings out when it hits the bottom of a cup. That sound is the sound of rock bottom. The person standing before you is at rock bottom like that coin. Instead, Leave your car where it is, call a taxi and take him directly to the closest agency above and show them that someone cares for this person and they will follow your lead. Now that’s giving someone CHANGE.
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