Reaching Out to the Homeless Mentally Ill

A Testimony to Akron’s Housing Needs Assessment Hearing

By David M. Pacetti

            “Before I became a homeless advocate, I struggled for four years as an advocate for persons with a psychiatric disability. I have not relinquished that mission. In fact, it was that mission that brought me to this arena. Many to most of the homeless carry the stigma of mental illness; The stigma, nurtured in myths and stereotypes, that prevents the homeless mentally ill from receiving the help they desperately need. So they remain in denial of their condition. Many of the homeless mentally ill, who have languished in the locked wards of a public psychiatric hospital, who have suffered extreme abuse and neglect during the dark ages of mental health that were not so long ago, have sufficient justification to fear and refuse psychiatric treatment. I strongly believe that new funding should be created to expand the role of the Choices drop-in center, that was created to meet the socialization needs of persons with a psychiatric label, but has discovered the needs of many persons with a psychiatric label, but has discovered the needs of many person from the general homeless population. the *homeless drop- in center, still in the planning stage, must have a strong mental health component.

            Social service agencies must engage in intensive outreach efforts to reach a population that is disabled by learned helplessness, and must be properly funded to do so. Marianne Goldyn RN, of the Community Support Services Homeless Outreach Project has demonstrated a standard of excellence for what can be accomplished by one person committed to responding to need rather than demand alone.

            The homeless need to have a person at the local level of government, empowered with executive authority, to collaborate with advocates who are engaged in the creation of emergency lodging or transitional housing, to enable advocates in circumventing laws and regulations created without any consideration for the life and death struggle of the homeless.

            As one of the principal organizers of the Grace Park Tent City, I have been told that I should forget about what happened there; That I inflict injury on our cause by even mentioning the twelve day demonstration. How can I forget about the Love and Courage I saw demonstrated there? How can I remain silent about the resolve and determination of the people there, who have been labeled as lazy and hopeless? This demonstration resulted in the creation of Unity House, a progressive home for homeless men, supervised and operated by the formerly homeless residents. The Homeless Organization does not have a monopoly on the philosophical design of Unity House; Nor the initiative and vision that created it. If a handful of volunteers, without funding or planning, were able to create such a bold and spontaneous project, I can only imagine what government, collaborated with faith communities and advocacy groups would be able to accomplish.

            My mission as a homeless advocate is to prevent government and the community, as much as possible, from participating in a collective delusion; A delusion insulated by antiquated class distinctions and unfair value judgments; The delusion that homeless people are responsible for their socio- economic status; The delusion that there are not enough resources available to end homelessness: The delusion that we do not have an individual moral responsibility to make the ending of homelessness our priority.”

*The Homeless drop- in center, as conceived by a committee in Summit County, will provide practical amenities such as showers, lockers and mailboxes.

Editor's Note: Mr. Pacetti is a mental health consumer and formerly homeless. He is a member of the Summit County Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and a board member of the Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

Published in the Fall of 1993 by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Grapevine in Cleveland Ohio.  NEOCH maintains the copyright on this article.