Next, some suggest that mental illness among individuals has effected the rise in the number of homeless people in America. Clearly, the structural problems created by de-institutionalization and similar policies throughout the 1980s are at the root of this assessment. As Jencks notes, the mental health policies of limiting involuntary commitment and allowing state hospitals to discharge patients with nowhere to go were a complete disaster. Indeed, in 1987, 100,000 working-age Americans with mental problems so severe that they could not hold a job were homeless. 37 On an individual basis, however, there is some merit to this claim. Clinicians who examine the homeless today "usually conclude that about a third have 'severe' mental disorders."38 People with these types of disorders may break off contact with the mental health system and friends and relatives who helped them deal with public agencies. In addition, they are usually incapable of finding work, receiving their social benefits, and generally dealing with the myriad of complex issues that are thrown up by homelessness. As a result, the argument goes, while structural forces may have thrown mental patients into the streets, their mental illness certainly contributed to the rise of homelessness in the 1 980s by keeping them permanently bound there.


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