I spoke to Joe Elkerton, the Director of Project417 – Ekklesia Inner City Ministries ( project417.com ), regarding the recent assault by a homeless squeegee person. According to Rev. Elkerton, the squeegee person in question was known to police and has a history of mental illness. These are the most vulnerable on our streets – and we need to take that reality into consideration when dealing with them. Ever since the de-institutionalization of mental health treatment, there has been a huge and widening chasm between the treatment of the average person and at risk people like the homeless, especially those with concurrent disorders, such as drug addiction and mental illnesses. With respect to physical health, it has long been known that the homeless are under served. According to a St. Michael’s Hospital survey, male homeless street youth have a mortality rate seven times higher than the general population, while homeless adult men are four times more likely to die than the average rate.
From a report published on Canadianchristianity.com “There are “hundreds of thousands of people” with mental illness who are “doing just fine,” said Tobias, such as university professors on Prozac or bipolar businessmen receiving regular medication. However, Tobias said he routinely encounters problems “where mental health and poverty intersect.” Chris Summerville, a member of the Commission’s Board of Directors and an ordained Christian minister, said about a third of homeless people have “a diagnosable mental illness” and about half of hospital stays for the homeless are due to mental health issues.
So it’s a good bet that many of the homeless, including sgueegee people, are suffering from, or are at risk of developing a mental illness. We need to take this into account when we are dealing with them – that is we need to engage in non-confrontational, non-violent behaviour, including, and perhaps specifically, verbal communications.
I would assume this would pre-clude the use of the “F” word when dealing with squeegees, panhandlers and other street involved people. Hopefully it would also extend to those we deal with on a regular basis amongst family, business and our own circle of friends. I feel that, as Kat has commented on my previous post, violence and confrontational behaviour are becoming the norm. The incident with the squeegee is not unique to the homeless, but a growing problem in society at large.
For example, when we do our Project417 sandwich runs weekly, taking bag lunches to the homeless street people, there is one woman who has been living next to the court house for several months, I approach with special care. She obviously is suffering from mental illness, and challenges us if we offer her food, asking dozens of questions – “Who are we, what organization authorizes us, why does the city allow us, why should she accept food…” and so on. If you try to respond to each question, or remind her that you have met before she becomes increasingly adjitated, angry and confused. Most of her verbal attacks are personal and abusive in nature and she will follow us and pursue us across the square if she doesn’t feel satisfied with our answers. I recognize the source of her abusive and violent behaviour and do all I can to calm her if we inadvertantly disturb her.
Check the links to the right of this post for further articles on the subject.