Dr. Joel Fiener practices psychiatry among the homeless at the Veteran's Hospital here in Dallas, Texas.
Joel has stories to tell.
Earlier this week during the "watch party" following the election in which Dallas voted to issue bonds for the construction of a new Homeless Assistance Center (HAC), I enjoyed an enlightening conversation with Dr. Joel.
He shared with me that his fundamental treatment paradigm is simple kindness. People with deep seated mental health issues often respond to kindness.
He also told me that the childhood trauma suffered by almost every patient he treats is mind boggling.
"Larry," he said, "practically every homeless veteran who is a patient of mine has suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome before they entered the military."
He went on to explain that the reason most of the homeless vets signed up for military service was to escape their lives of horror and pain. Sexual and physical abuse, exsposure to traumatic events, extreme poverty, abandonment. . .the list of horrible circumstances went on and on.
"Once in the military, alcohol and drugs became very accessible. Using drugs and sex to treat the pain of early life was the common choice for the majority of these patients," he reported.
Talk about blowing my stereotypes!
The war experiences that I assumed had driven these men and women to the streets were not on foreign battlefields, they were at home in childhood!
As he spoke, my mind kept returning to his notion of kindness and its importance as a therapeutic tool and treatment strategy.
The homeless in America are written off, shoved aside and pigeon-holed. How wrong, how terribly wrong.
So often we dismiss people with flippant words like, "They should do better for themselves!"
That advice is actually the correct message.
What we have wrong is the audience who needs to hear it.