November is Homeless Awareness Month. It is an issue I take very seriously. According to a 2015 Hud Survey 24% of the US identified as having a mental Illness. This is more likely to be prevalent in homeless individuals and as such Autism is later recognized, thus lacking proper training for the staff that support these fragile individuals. The ability to self-advocate becomes limited as does linking individuals to appropriate supports to meet their needs, because simply, they are very lacking. This is mainly because of the lack of autistic-specific data for homeless facilities.
I am not aware of a similar study in the United States yet, but I have met so many Autistics and other disabled people living on the streets and in other highly marginalized settings during my own years of homelessness that I would not be at all surprised to find similar statistics. Twelve percent of Welsh Autistic adults reported experiencing homelessness and 65% of homeless people sleeping in the streets in Devon, England, had been diagnosed with autism. Surveys have indicated an autism rate between 1% and 2% across all countries. Rates of autism among the homeless population are 3000% to 6000% higher than in the general population – a percentage so overwhelming I don’t have words adequate to express my outrage.
COVID-19 has brought to the forefront the prevalence of the homeless population. I have known several in compromising situations that retreated to plaza benches in my county seat because the transitional shelters were closed. When they opened they had a spike of clients, but when the clients exhausted their stay limit (generally 30 days), they again chose to return to the streets.
As reported in my local paper last week, there are two kinds of homelessness. There is what is known as the honest kind of homeless. These individuals are out on the streets because they have nowhere to go, but they want to get back on their feet. They seek the help they need to try their darndest to get off the streets and have a life that they can be happy about. The other kind is the kind of homelessness that no one wants to talk about. Its the kind where these individuals are reluctant to receive the help to get on their feet. They choose to live in a homeless style version, relying on the good-natured support of community based organizations or whatever free resources they can tap into so that they do not end up in a clinical or other similar situation so they can continue to remain unmedicated and/or using illicit substances (again, their choice). If I did a blind observational survey of my town’s homeless population (figuratively, althoughI see many in passing). I can know and make the observation that tendencies of at least a mental/intellectual/developmental challenge and/or autistic traits are present in many of those I have observed. However, in my county there is plenty of help should one choose to seek it. Alas, more than likely, they choose to live the way they choose to. It could also be that they are in need of proper care that they could be reluctant to receive or get. This could happen because they did not update their information with the proper authorities or a host of other reasons.
We as an advocacy community must make those in governmental and authoritative power aware of the need to treat the homeless as human beings with rights and ensure that they are safe for the community and are cared for properly These fragile individuals need to be ensured that there is help out there if they want it and clear directions must be given for how they are to get it or how to get in contact of a person they can seek assistance to. We as advocates must be the voice for these very ill-represented individuals who need the support of the community to support them in whatever choice they so choose. If we feel we can do something to support them and we want to, making a step or two extra of helping them wouldn’t hurt. We must take care of our brothers and sisters who many times share the same or bigger load as us. Yes, we can have it bad, but always remember that there is ALWAYS someone who has a worse life than you do. Give a helping hand.