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  • Writer's pictureUnsheltered

3 Must Read Books For Anyone Helping The Homeless

I guess you could call this a book review if you wanted to but it’s more of an effort to help you better understand some of the people you are trying to help. I do a fair amount of reading and these three books made a real impact on me. Two of these books deal with mental illness and the other one deals with setting personal boundaries.

While I do not think that everyone who is homeless is mentally ill, I am also not naive enough to pretend that mental illness isn’t a big factor in the homeless population, especially for the chronically homeless. I think these books will really help you to see people with illnesses in a much different light. The third book will help you to see yourself in a different light!

Here are the books and how to get them.

Crazy: A father’s search through America’s mental health madness

Publishers summary

Former Washington Post reporter Pete Earley had written extensively about the criminal justice system. But it was only when his own son-in the throes of a manic episode-broke into a neighbor's house that he learned what happens to mentally ill people who break a law.

This is the Earley family's compelling story, a troubling look at bureaucratic apathy and the countless thousands who suffer confinement instead of care, brutal conditions instead of treatment, in the "revolving doors" between hospital and jail. With mass deinstitutionalization, large numbers of state mental patients are homeless or in jail-an experience little better than the horrors of a century ago. Earley takes us directly into that experience-and into that of a father and award-winning journalist trying to fight for a better way.

My summary

In this fascinating book, Pete Earley speaks a lot about homelessness. I have always know that mental illness plays a big role in the lives of many people who are chronically homeless, but I never knew the reasons they shuffled back and forth from jails to shelters to the streets. This book really connects the dots of those vicious cycles.

Since Earley approaches this from the viewpoint of an investigative journalist, I really believe this book to be an unbiased “look” into several moving parts of a very broken system. Furthermore, since he weaves the story of his own families struggle throughout the book, it has a very personal feel that keeps you turning the page.

I like to listen to most books through my Audible app on my phone. I have listened to several audio books and the narrator of this one is by far the very best I have ever listened to. He has a way of keeping you engaged and it’s a great listen.

I think you should read this book to understand the difficulty that a family goes through as they try to help a mentally ill family member. It puts all of that into a new light. This book will also give you a more compassionate heart because you will realize that the mentally ill homeless population is truly one of the most vulnerable people groups in our society.

A few of the things you will learn in this book are:

Why family members of the mentally ill are limited in how they can help

How the mentally ill are really treated in jails and prisons

Why many severally mentally ill persons wind up homeless

Why jail is not the best place for the mentally ill who commit crimes

What it’s really like on the streets for a severely mentally ill person

Why some mentally ill persons also abuse illegal drugs

Why so many homeless people also spend time in jails

A word of caution

Since the author used a recording device and conducted many interviews, throughout the book he gives many direct quotes. Many of these quotes include severe profanity. The author himself never uses profanity in his own writing of this book, but the quotes are numerous and some are very bad.

Also, he describes in detail everything he observed in the Miami-Dade county jail. Some of those descriptions are sexual in nature and are absolutely not appropriate for young people. I almost refrained from recommending this book because of these two issues, however, I cannot refrain because it is the cold truth and sometimes we need to hear the realities of a given situation in order to gain an understanding. I believe that to be the case with this book.

Get the book

Click here for the Amazon link to Crazy.

American Psychosis: How the federal government destroyed the mentally illness treatment system

Publishers summary

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered an historic speech on mental illness and retardation. He described sweeping new programs to replace "the shabby treatment of the many millions of the mentally disabled in custodial institutions" with treatment in community mental health centers. This movement, later referred to as "deinstitutionalization," continues to impact mental health care. Though he never publicly acknowledged it, the program was a tribute to Kennedy's sister Rosemary, who was born mildly retarded and developed a schizophrenia-like illness. Terrified she'd become pregnant, Joseph Kennedy arranged for his daughter to receive a lobotomy, which was a disaster and left her severely retarded.

Fifty years after Kennedy's speech, E. Fuller Torrey's book provides an inside perspective on the birth of the federal mental health program. On staff at the National Institute of Mental Health when the program was being developed and implemented, Torrey draws on his own first-hand account of the creation and launch of the program, extensive research, one-on-one interviews with people involved, and recently unearthed audiotapes of interviews with major figures involved in the legislation. As such, this book provides historical material previously unavailable to the public. Torrey examines the Kennedys' involvement in the policy, the role of major players, the responsibility of the state versus the federal government in caring for the mentally ill, the political maneuverings required to pass the legislation, and how closing institutions resulted not in better care - as was the aim - but in underfunded programs, neglect, and higher rates of community violence. Many now wonder why public mental illness services are so ineffective. At least one-third of the homeless are seriously mentally ill, jails and prisons are grossly overcrowded, largely because the seriously mentally ill constitute 20 percent of prisoners, and public facilities are overrun by untreated individuals. As Torrey argues, it is imperative to understand how we got here in order to move forward towards providing better care for the most vulnerable.

My summary

This book starts off a little slow because of the great detail that the author goes into with the Kennedy family and the fact that Rosemary Kennedy suffered with a mental illness. At first, It seemed to me that all the information might not be necessary, but it really helped to put the history of mental illness here in America into context. Overall, this is an awesome book.

American Psychosis really unlocks the door of understanding why the mental health system is the way it is today. The research and history in this book are extremely eye-opening and revealing. You will gain an understanding that will help you shape how you feel about helping the homeless people who are also mentally ill. You will come to realize that your efforts might be the only thing that helps someone to survive another day.

Personally, the information in this book has helped me to understand that people who are mentally ill face very real challenges in getting treatment, most of which are not their fault. I have come to the conclusion that not all people are capable of getting help for themselves and we have a system that also prevents others from getting help for the helpless. This book will connect the dots like no other when it comes to understanding why some homeless people seem to simply exist on the streets even though they are obviously in need of help.

A few of the things you will learn in this book are:

  • The exact reasons why a severely mentally ill homeless person can stay on the streets if they choose to do so

  • Why we are sometimes powerless to help someone even if we want to

  • The complete history of the mental health system in America (and how it is flawed)

  • How a real medical condition keeps some mentally ill persons from believing they need medicines

  • The holes in the mental health system that cause the patients to be the ones who lose

  • How money and politics played key roles in shaping the mental health system

Get the book

Click here for the Amazon link to American Psychosis.

Boundaries: When to say yes, how to say no to take control of your life

Publishers summary

Having clear boundaries is essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are not. Boundaries impact all areas of our lives: Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us and under what circumstances -- Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts and opinions -- Emotional boundaries help us to deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others -- Spiritual boundaries help us to distinguish God's will from our own and give us renewed awe for our Creator -- Often, Christians focus so much on being loving and unselfish that they forget their own limits and limitations. When confronted with their lack of boundaries, they ask:

- Can I set limits and still be a loving person?

- What are legitimate boundaries?

- What if someone is upset or hurt by my boundaries?

- How do I answer someone who wants my time, love, energy, or money?

- Aren't boundaries selfish?

- Why do I feel guilty or afraid when I consider setting boundaries?

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend offer biblically-based answers to these and other tough questions, showing us how to set healthy boundaries with our parents, spouses, children, friends, co-workers, and even ourselves.

My summary

Boundaries is a classic book that needs to be read by everyone, everywhere. I had this one on my “to read” list for a long time but only completed it late last year. I’m sure glad I went ahead and took the time to read this one. (Actually, I listened to it on my Audible app while I was driving and that made it easier since it’s such a long one.)

This book will teach you exactly what is says it will teach you. You will learn some incredible things from the authors who are very studied in their respective fields, as well as in the Bible itself. They give a Biblical foundation for everything they set forth in the book.

Many people who work with the homeless on a regular basis get burned out quickly. There are lots of frustrations and people are always pulling at you. In Boundaries, you will learn that it’s okay to say no. You will also learn why some people never say no and why others are so intrusive. I believe reading this book will help you to have a more fruitful and longer-lasting ministry because you will learn how to respond to the never ending demands of others.

A few of the things you will learn in this book are:

Just read the publishers summary above, it pretty much covers the basics.

Get the book

Click here for the Amazon link to Boundaries.

Of course, there are many other great books that I think to be helpful and I will list them in the future. These three however, I believe will have a great impact on how we treat others and ourselves so I wanted to share them with you now. Happy reading!

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