Why Japan’s Homeless Are Different from North America’s – Part 1
This intriguing five-part documentary series contrasts Japan’s aggressive effort to reduce homelessness with the apparent indifference of the US government. In my view, the stark contrast makes an important statement about the shameful greed and corruption underlying the US political system.
Part 1: The series begins by examining why Japan has always had a much lower endemic rate of homelessness than the US:
Japan has much lower levels of drug abuse than the US,* although alcoholism and compulsive gambling are common problems contributing to Japanese homelessness.
Japan, which retained its mental hospitals when the US and other English-speaking countries closed theirs down (as a cost cutting measure) in the seventies and eighties.** The majority of America’s mentally ill either end up in prison or on the streets.
Japan has few, if any traumatized war veterans. The latter represent a sizeable proportion of the US homeless population.
*Japan has no paramilitary organization comparable to the CIA, which openly engages in narcotics trafficking as part of its strategy to destabilize regimes unfriendly to Wall Street interests.
**In the US, the community mental health movement Kennedy started never received full funding following his assassination. Instead the mental health centers he created to replace mental hospitals have experienced continuous budget cuts dating back to the Reagan administration.
US and The Wall: Deportees in Mexico Unwanted by Either Side
This documentary explores the plight of newly deported immigrants – many of whom have lived in the US more than 20 years and speak no Spanish. Most end up in Tijuana which, run by drug cartels, is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Because they’re not local, it’s fairly common for Mexican police to detain deportees and steal their money.
The film profiles three main groups, volunteers who leave gallon jugs of water in the desert to prevent migrants from dying of thirst; armed vigilantes, drawn from former military and police personnel, who patrol the Arizona desert hunting down illegal immigrants; and US veterans who have started a shelter in Tijuana for veterans deported after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most were enticed to enlist with a promise of citizenship – only to be deported for minor crimes such as DUIs, drug possession, bad checks or firearms offenses. One veteran talks of pleading guilty based on a broken promise he wouldn’t be deported.
During the filming, the shelter is visited by seven Congress people concerned about the plight of deported veterans.
This documentary traces the experience of six US veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who undergo treatment with the psychedelic ayahuasca, owing to their failure to respond to conventional treatment.*
Ex-GIs who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer extremely high rates of PTSD, traumatic brain injury and suicidal depression. They commit suicide at twice the rate of the general population and US prisons, mental hospitals and homeless shelters are full of disabled veterans.
Studies show that psychedelic drugs, such as ayahuasca and ibogaine** are often helpful in treating heroin addiction and alcoholism. Their use in PTSD is still experimental.
In the film the six veterans travel to the Amazon jungle, where ayahasca is viewed as a sacred plant, to undergo a nine day healing ceremony with an indigenous shaman.
*Western medicine has no recognized treatment for PTSD.
By Neal Karski, George Min, Tyler Dubiak and Scott Hilburn (2016)
Street Life is a portrait of the Chicago’s homeless population. It begins by demolishing the myth that homelessness is a lifestyle choice. In addition to a wealth of statistics, the documentary includes interviews with homeless Chicagoans, social service workers, homeless advocates and random passersby. I found it intriguing that none of the women interviewed blamed the homeless for their predicament – while more than half the men did.
On any given night 750,000 Americans are homeless, and yearly 25-35 million spend some nights on the streets or in shelters. Worldwide 100 million people have no housing at all while one billion have grossly inadequate housing. Last year, over a million American children were homeless at some point.
In examining the causes of chronic homelessness, filmmakers identified the following breakdown (in Chicago):
48% suffer from chronic drug or alcohol addiction
32% are mentally ill
25% are victims of domestic violence
15% are unemployed veterans
4% have HIV or AIDS
Because the homeless make huge demands on the public health system, it costs taxpayers far less to pay for their housing than to leave them on the street. After starting a Permanent Supportive Housing program two years ago, Illinois lawmakers reduced emergency room visits by 40%, nursing home days by 975%, inpatient days by 83% and psychiatric services by 66%.