Protesting Homelessness


It’s time to center homelessness in the conversation around mental health.




If you did not know what the campsites on college campuses were, at a distance you might think at first glance that they were composed of homeless individuals. I got to wonder about that when we recently drove past a homeless encampment off the freeway in the Chicago area, not at all close to any college. Further, I wondered: why aren’t the students and their allies protesting the homelessness in America and elsewhere?

Instead, many students are protesting the war in the Mideast, mainly from the standpoint of the destruction and loss of lives in Gaza. There are some counter protestors in support of Israel who are feeling harassed and hated by their fellow students. The question and challenge now is when and how the current protests will end. Can this conflict lead to some lasting peace instead of hardening of hearts?

Yet, there is chronic homelessness, overrepresented with those who have mental illnesses, that does not receive much attention from students and other youth.

Homelessness in America seemed to start to escalate about 40 years ago.1 Some of the causes seemed to be gentrification of the inner cities, deinstitutionalization of individuals with mental illness and inadequate community support, high unemployment, AIDS, and inadequate housing. Housing is being found to be a crucial intervention.

About a third of those who are homeless have a serious mental and substance abuse disorder.2 Due to the difficulty of counting, estimates vary about the numbers of homeless individuals, but are well into the hundreds of thousands.

Worldwide, homelessness occurs in any war. There is not necessarily a high percentage of those with mental illnesses before the war, but that always escalates after the trauma and losses of war.

If ever we in psychiatry should protest for those in need, shouldn’t that start with the homeless, given their high prevalence of mental disorders? Will homelessness be covered at the upcoming American Psychiatric Association meeting?

Perhaps it is the continuing stigma toward mental illness that contributes to passivity. How can we also get students and the general public more concerned across religious, cultural, and political lines? I do not ever recall homelessness being on the platforms of a national election, but the time is overdue.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.


1. Kasmer KL. Down and out, On the Road: The Homeless in American History. Oxford University Press; 2002.

2. Saldua M. Addressing social determinants of health among individuals experiencing homelessness. SAMHSA. November 15, 2023.Accessed April 30, 2024.

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