mental illness

Emergency Preparedness Planning For The Homeless

Homelessness is a growing problem in the United States, and all too often those who find themselves living on the streets are disabled American veterans and/or the elderly.  When your income is so low that you can’t afford to pay the rent and eat too, then living on the street becomes a reality.  Many of the homeless find the “golden years” are anything but golden.

There are certainly valiant efforts being made to reduce or eliminate homelessness, but for those people still living under a freeway bypass or in a garbage dumpster, life becomes a dangerous existence indeed. 

Have you ever thought about what happens to the homeless when disaster strikes? 

Many of these individuals are coping with mental illness; even if they make it through a disaster, putting their lives back together may be more than they can cope with.

Part of Emergency Preparedness Planning involves “sheltering in place.”  This is a term used to indicate that it is dangerous to be outside (because of radiation, toxic fumes, etc.), and the best practice is to remain in your home with the windows and doors sealed until the “All Clear!” is given. 

So what happens during and after a disaster to those individuals who are homeless?  Or, if your shelter is the local Rescue Mission where you are required to leave during the day -- how do you shelter in place when you have no place?   

What may be worse is that veterans living on the street are often there as a result of having PTSD.  An emergency, or even emergency responders, may trigger PTSD symptoms.  The sound of sirens and alarms from rescue workers can trigger flashbacks.

So what does a homeless person with a disability do when an emergency arises?  

That is something that needs to be addressed in our local emergency preparedness plans.   Shelters must be made available to homeless people too.  Perhaps even more important, our homeless individuals need the supports necessary to help them get back on their feet and take their place in society again before a disaster strikes.  We hope that time isn’t far off.  

If You Can't See It, Is It Real?

Guest Blogger: Chris Wistrom

Guest Blogger: Chris Wistrom

As an Independent Living Specialist, I’m appalled at the number of persons with disabilities who have family members and friends who tell them to, “Just get up and get to work!”  The individuals I’m referring to are often those who ask for help because they are homeless.  The problem lies in disabilities that are “hidden;” those that we can’t outwardly discern.  For instance, someone with a back injury, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart, lung or liver disease, and so many other conditions, don’t show their disability outwardly.  Because of it, these individuals are judged as malingers or charlatans and don’t receive the compassion or assistance they so desperately need.

Estimates of “hidden” disabilities range from 60% to 80% of all disabilities.  If you’re shocked by this number, consider how many people you know who have a hidden disability.  People with arthritis, mental illness, cancer, autoimmune disorders, minor strokes, learning disabilities, personality disorders, fibromyalgia, diabetes, PTSD, chemical sensitivities, etc., etc., etc.

Isn’t it time we stopped judging people when we don’t know the kind of trial they’re facing or the pain they live with on a daily basis?  Yes, there are people out there who will take advantage of the system and will “fake” a disability.  But I’ve never seen a person who has been homeless on a long-term basis who is faking it.  Most are desperate to get by and just survive.

Let’s try to remember that just because we aren’t seeing tangible evidence of a disability doesn’t mean it’s not real.  Let’s try a little compassion and emotional support and see if we can’t become part of the solution rather than adding to the problem.