Homelessness affects cities across the country, but it’s not just a local issue, though media cover it that way. Nor is homelessness mainly about housing; rather, it’s largely about untreated mental illness and drug addiction. Consistently misdiagnosed, homelessness is being wrongly addressed. And the policies that give rise to homelessness largely come from Washington, D.C., not localities. A bill called “Housing PLUS” has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., with 22 sponsors, to start to rectify these policies.
A national mental illness crisis has been building since the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill began in the 1960s. Drug addictions also have increased and most surveys show that the “homeless” are often both mentally ill and addicted. Cases like the recent death of subway disrupter Jordan Neely in New York City underscore the frightening dangers of untreated psychotic behavior. Yet the Biden administration, Congress, and many regional officials have persisted in treating homelessness as almost entirely a housing issue.
Until now — maybe. “Housing PLUS” would redirect 30 percent of federal housing funds to mental illness, addiction services, and job training. North America Recovers, a new alliance seeking to reform government’s approach to homelessness and addiction, supports more sweeping changes, but sees Barr’s bill as a good start.