As most of you know, I am a Registered Nurse and work in an inner city Emergency Room. We are located in the good part of town. Our locals are the homeless, prostitutes, and other fine people.
This is not to say that all of the people we see are like this, some are regular, everyday, average folks.
It is further not true that someone that is homeless is automatically a bad person. There is a pervasive and hard to shake misperception of what the homeless population is like. Granted, some are dirtbags. Many have substance abuse problems that they have largely brought upon themselves.
Anybody reading this knows I am not a bleeding heart liberal. Further realize that I believe a lot of these people are where they are because of choices they have made in life.
There is a large portion of these people though that are mentally ill. These people genuinely do not choose to be where they are. They are a failure of the mental health system. I will not go into detail about this because it is not what the post is about but just realize that our mental health system seems to spend most of it's time enabling people who do not really need help and ignore the people who do. It's a f'ed up system.
Like I said above, a lot of them are dirtbags. We have them pee on the floor, pee in the sinks, try to kick, punch, bite, and spit on us. All the while spewing the most vile hatred at us that one can imagine.
At the same time, some are basically decent people who through their mental illness cannot function in life. It is hard for most of us to understand how bad mental illness can be. It's easy to sit in our comfortable life and pass judgement on these people. There are few of you though that can understand how debilitating something like schizophrenia, or bipolar, or psychosis can be. We cannot understand how someone can't do things as basic as remember to take their medications, or remember to eat, or bathe themselves.
Many have substance abuse problems which we sneer at, it's clearly the reason they are where they are. Sometimes this is true. Sometimes though, alcohol or drugs are self-medication.
We cannot imagine what it is like to hear voices in our head. Voices telling us we are worthless, telling us to harm ourselves, voices telling us the people that are trying to help us are actually trying to harm us. These are not metaphorical voices, they are as real to them as the voices you hear when someone is talking to you. They actually hear them, constantly. The alcohol is a way to shut the voices up for awhile.
"Why don't they just take their medications?" Why? Because the voices are telling them it is poison. It is often a seesaw. If we can keep them on their medications, they don't hear the voices. If they stop for some reason, the voices return and they spiral down.
Finally, realize that a lot of these men are veterans that are not getting the help they need from our federal government.
I am not making excuses for any of the homeless. I just want to point out that sometimes the problem is not quite as simple as it seems. Just food for thought.