During my first incarceration, in October of 2006, I was severely mentally ill. After being arrested for trespassing and jailed, I found myself with about thirty other women, locked in a pitch-dark room. Hours went by where we were moved from room to room, many without any light. There was no toothbrush or shower. Through it all, I felt no guilt, and was unaware I had done anything wrong.
Mentally ill homeless people are incarcerated all the time. They fall asleep somewhere they are technically not supposed to be, when they have nowhere else to go. They are jailed for disturbing the peace after they scream back at the voices in their minds (when they need medications). They are arrested for being confused, and truly not knowing how to behave. Many times, there is no vicious will. Sometimes, there is no awareness of breaking laws.
I used to live this horrible life. The mentally ill go from the streets, to jails or hospitals, and then back to the streets again. Sometimes, this life situation is called the “revolving door.”
Fortunately, when I finally entered a mental hospital (after four years homeless) and badly wanted to return to the churchyard, my parents prepared to go to court, if necessary, to keep me off the streets. My parents did not give up until we found a treatment plan which gave me back my life. But other mentally ill homeless people are not so fortunate. For many, there is no advocate.
It has been proven that when homeless people are given free housing through programs like “Housing First,” expensive hospitalizations and jails stays are greatly reduced, saving communities tens of thousands of dollars per year, per person. Mentally ill homeless people who still wish to live on the streets (like I did) should participate in mental health courts, where the goal is “treatment in lieu of conviction.” There are excellent mental health courts in Cincinnati, where the judge becomes like a caring legal guardian, making sure these people take their meds, finding them housing, and enabling them to rebuild their lives.
If both the “Housing First” program and mental health courts were implemented in every community, millions of dollars would be saved, while homelessness would virtually disappear.