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Jackson in an Urban Center in Rural Tennessee
Jackson in an Urban Center in Rural Tennessee

Relief and dreams in Jackson, Tennessee

As Stephanie Woodley, 42, sat last month in the dayroom of Area Relief Ministries (ARM) in Jackson, Tenn., she said the stabbing of her ex-husband was no big deal. “The gash is only this big,” she said as she extended her right thumb and index finger to demonstrate a one-incher.  Woodley said her ex-husband tried to push their daughter, Maddie, down the stairs, so Maddie stabbed him. Maddie moved in with her aunt in Memphis, and Woodley was sleeping on the streets in Jackson, 88 miles away. Woodley’s dark almond eyes teared up: “I miss my daughter.”  Woodley showed the homescreen on her phone: a picture of Maddie standing next to a pink agapanthus flower. She said Maddie has offered Read More ›

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Old Mental Hospital Sign
Old Mental Hospital Sign

Good Intentions, Horrible Results

Last week on Fix Homelessness and in my monthly OlaskyBooks newsletter, I gave highlights and lowlights from Andrew Scull’s Desperate Remedies: Psychiatry’s Turbulent Quest to Cure Mental Illness (Harvard University Press, 2022). He notes that many mentally ill people are now homeless and on the streets instead of in state-funded mental hospitals. (Those institutions, like Michigan’s Lapeer State Home and Training School, housed sufferers. Then the 1960s brought in new drugs and new Washington-paid health plans, Medicare and Medicaid.) I didn’t have room last week to dive into an important question: Which came first, medical panaceas (that turned out not to be so) or money incentives? Scull says money, in many instances: “In at least seventeen states, inpatient censuses had Read More ›

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West Hollywood Homelessness Wild Tents Camp
West Hollywood Homelessness Wild Tents Camp

Mental Illness on the Streets

From 1978 to 1983 I worked at Du Pont, which had a famous slogan: “Better things for better living through chemistry.” Andrew Scull’s Desperate Remedies: Psychiatry’s Turbulent Quest to Cure Mental Illness (Harvard University Press, 2022), shows how those years were the culmination of a “better drugs for better living” approach to mental illness that led to closing asylums across the United States”—and left many of the sickest among us homeless. Read More ›
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Spokane Shows the Failures of ‘Housing First’

The national policy of “Housing First” has been a disappointing failure at reducing homelessness overall. Housing should be only one part of a solution that includes treatment of mental illness and drug addiction. Read More ›
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London Westminster Abbey St Margaret Church
London Westminster Abbey St Margaret Church

Homelessness in the 1300s

Several readers of my column two weeks ago wanted more information on the book Piers Plowman and its historical context. Glad to provide, especially because that late medieval time in some ways parallels our own. Read More ›
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Two psycho friends going around chair supporting each other in mental house
Photo licensed via Adobe Stock

Homeless Encampments and Mental illness

Fifty-one years ago I bicycled from Boston to Oregon. I was a Marxist then and looking for evidence of the American empire falling apart, but during the whole ten weeks on the road I didn’t see the one tourist attraction that would have delighted my propagandistic self: homeless encampments. Now every city seems to have them. Read More ›
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Watercolor painting of medieval castle at sunrise landscape
Watercolor painting of medieval castle at sunrise landscape

Different Time and Place, Same Dilemmas

In the 33 years since I’ve been on-and-off writing about homelessness issues, many readers have asked the same questions and reported the same challenges to conscience: Should I give to the person at the street corner or the freeway entrance? How can I discern who will use a dollar for food and who will use it for drugs? When I give, am I doing it primarily to feel good or to help a fellow human? Read More ›
Community First Village

A Second Look at Community First! Village in Austin

I wrote last week about Community First! Village, located on relatively cheap land just east of Austin and getting national applause as the coolest homelessness project in what some call America’s coolest city. Read More ›