Homelessness Should Not Be Normalized for Neurodivergent People

by Jack Bragen

The media has taught Americans to associate “mentally ill” with “homeless,” and vice-versa. Politicians and authorities have brainwashed Americans to believe homelessness is caused by untreated mental disorders or a drug addiction. This is a sadly mistaken way of thinking, and it is promoted so that society can continue subjugating and otherwise mistreating those who are different. 

But it is a half-truth. Some people are homeless and have a mental condition or drug addiction, but also homelessness can cause a person to develop mental illness or substance use disorder. Once unhoused, the mind is the first thing to go. It is a mix because there are some who don’t treat a mental illness or substance use issue, which could lead to homelessness. Yet the mass media and people’s thinking paint with too broad of a brush. 

The causes of homelessness are often unrelated to noncompliance with medication. The rents are too high. There is precious little housing for those of very low income. To boot, anosognosia, or the condition of not recognizing one’s own mental disorder, may not be the biggest cause of treatment noncompliance. The side effects of antipsychotics causing physical and mental suffering is a large motive to be noncompliant. 

Members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and other “advocacy” groups blame the victims and assert that mentally ill people become homeless by not taking their medication. Because of this misconception, programs have been hatched to force or otherwise cajole compliance, without providing very low-income housing. If there were a significant number of properties people could afford to rent while living on disability income, I believe it would put a massive dent in the bulk of chronic homelessness. 

As it stands, living on public benefits alone does not allow someone to be housed and independent. If we rely on these benefits, we must live in a subsidized living situation, which requires a number of flaming hoops to jump through to qualify. If someone is neurodivergent and resultantly has issues with basic survival ability, they must rely on family as a  safety net. 

But if they don’t  have family that’s able and willing to help, the next rung is institutionalization, either inpatient or outpatient. But if we have difficulty following the rules of the place we live, we could be booted out. Then what? 

If you live in a group home, someone could take a dislike to you and could influence the owner into kicking you out. In such a setting, you are probably not protected by a lease or any tenants’ rights, leaving zero protection against instantaneous homelessness. 

We could be diligently taking our meds and participating in our treatment, but that doesn’t necessarily produce a roof over our heads. Once displaced, if we don’t have a method of getting our medicine, our food or anything else that is essential to mental and physical health, we fall through the cracks. Next thing you know,  Gov. Gavin Newsom comes in on a white horse and puts us in front of a judge to compel us into treatment. Do we then become housed again after cycling through this? 

The word “advocacy” has been twisted to mean something opposite what it once meant. Twenty or thirty years ago, “advocacy” was a catchword of the patients’ rights movement. An advocate would fight for your civil and personal rights so that you would not be victimized by the treatment system. An advocate would stand up for you and could prevent you from being hospitalized under cruel and inhumane conditions. They could protect you against inappropriate forced treatment. They could get you out of a place where you truly do not belong. 

The new “advocacy” meaning has been co-opted by medication proponents, and it has been changed to “treatment advocacy” where medication and other treatment are forced on patients, supposedly for the good of the patient. Sometimes, it truly is in the patient’s interest to be medicated—I know it worked for me. Yet shouldn’t the patient get a say in this? Shouldn’t they be able to ask for different dosages or different medications? Couldn’t they stay in a safe place and be supported while they try to face symptoms without being forcibly medicated? 

The hospitals will say, “It’s my way or the highway.” If someone refuses medication and still retains his or her rights, they could be booted out of the hospital to fend for themselves on the street, unmedicated. 

In a 2022 statement about his Care Court law, Newsom said, “We must act with urgency and accountability to address this crisis which currently leaves thousands of individuals living on our streets without the help they need.” 

To me, this “accountability” sounds more like punishment. Once again, we are blaming the victim.

Medication does not produce a place to live. Affordable rents and rental protections are the way to accomplish that. Once we have safe, secure, comfortable surroundings, medication could work to make a person get better. There are two factors: medication and environment. Both needs must be met. 

The public should not assume that if you are neurodivergent, you are homeless or vice-versa. This assumption is a disservice, and it causes discrimination and other complications to lives already troubled. 

Jack Bragen is a writer in the East Bay, and has indie books (fiction and self-help) available on Amazon