Psychiatric Abuses and the Homeless Community
Editorial by Terry Messman
Homeless people often have to suffer through the most cruel and coercive forms of psychiatric abuse.
issue of psychiatric abuses and forced psychiatric treatment is a
matter of grave concern for poor and homeless people, and those who
work with poor and disabled persons. This issue of Street Spirit takes an in-depth look at the issue of psychiatric abuses and atrocities.
articles in this issue's special section on psychiatric practices add
up to a damning indictment of pscyhiatric drugs and electroshock
procedures which are perpetrated in the name of healing, yet often end
up damaging and disabling people for life.
the streets or in the psychiatric wards, homeless people are
discriminated against in ways that would not be tolerated by any other
minority. Homeless people are subjected to ugly, yet nearly invisible
forms of discrimination behind the closed doors of psychiatric
Because the issue of psychiatric abuse is of burning concern to the homeless community, Street Spirit broke
the story about the shocking mistreatment of low-income psychiatric
patients at East Bay Hospital in Richmond in 1997. Our reporting helped
close that horrible dungeon, and ever since, Street Spirit has continued to report on psychiatric injustices.
too often, it is the grim fate of poor and homeless people to end up
committed to the worst psychiatric hospitals, and to suffer the
greatest neglect and abuse. Several factors conspire to create this
First, when people were deinstitutionalized
from state mental hospitals (also known as snakepits), our society made
a promise to set up community-based mental-health centers, supportive
housing and therapy programs to enable them to live a life of dignity
and independence in their own communities. All levels of government
bailed out of that promise. The result of society's refusal to build a
decent system of community mental health care is the abandonment of
hundreds of thousands of people to a perilous existence on the streets,
supported at best by a pitifully small SSI or GA check.
the hardships, malnutrition, sleep deprivation and unbelievable
stresses of street life can undermine the most stable person's mental
Third, poor people are sent to hospitals of
last resort because they often have no medical insurance, no family to
help and no stable residence. A homeless person who undergoes a
psychological crisis on the city streets is a sitting duck to be picked
up by the police and involuntarily committed to an inner-city psych
ward. Society sets them up for this fall.
That is why
the homeless movement must fight against psychiatric abuses and promote
freedom and dignity and housing and decent health care for
mental-health clients. The homeless movement and the psychiatric
survivors movement are indissolubly linked -- linked by shared
oppression, by discrimination, and by a common need for housing and
Our society's broken promises have
left hundreds of thousands of disabled persons stranded on the streets.
Just because we usually forget that disabled people have the same
rights as the rest of us, it is still an act of pure bigotry to single
out one class of fellow citizens for neglect, abuse and naked hostility.
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© 2002-2005 STREET SPIRIT. All rights reserved.
Published by American Friends Service Committee