Shelter is one of three universal needs. Gross indifference and negligence by the government often leads to deplorable living conditions for the most socially disadvantaged individuals in the community. This concept has been demonstrated throughout history and is not exclusive to any one culture. In 1948, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in an attempt to create a universal definition of adequacy and equality for individuals of all nations throughout the world. This agreement recognizes that adequate housing is a necessary facet of the right to an adequate standard of living. All governments have the responsibility to allocate funds for housing and institute policies, programs, and projects that contribute to quality of life for its citizens (United Nations,1948, p.1).
When this need is underestimated and not provided based upon the specific needs of the population being served, the results are disastrous. This blight of society would lead one to think that the theater is only in developing countries, but there is a clear history that “advanced” nations allow the poorest individuals in society to suffer as the government shirks their obligation to provide adequate housing. England and the United States are among the richest nations in the world, but both have proven that money is not always an indication that the disabled, homeless, and otherwise socially disadvantaged populations will be protected. In fact, it is because of many disasters that global legislation and other forms of government intervention are currently in place. Ironically, the government is often present from the onset of the crises (Butcher, Mineka, &Hooley, 2007, p.57). Bethlem Royal Hospital and Willowbrook State School are suggestions that support this fact.
Founded in 1247, Bethlem RoyalHospital is the first and oldest asylum for the mentally ill. Located in Kent,England, the conditions, at one time, were so horrendous, that the word, Bedlam ( an alternate spelling), became synonymous with confusion and disorder( Allderidge, 1985, p.17). By 1547, after Henry VIII sponsored the hospital, it became infamous for the ruthless treatment its patients received. Gross insensitivity was shown when in the 1600's and 1700's the hospital was open to spectators for a fee.
Originally intended as a collection center for alms to support the Church during the Crusades, it eventually evolved into a place to a house the poor; equivalent to a hostel. When reports grew of there being a growing number of patients who were "mente capti," the hostel subtly converted to an insane asylum. Poor management and miseducation led to the facility being one where patients were secured with manacles, locks, chains, and stocks. The original Bethlem was built over a sewer, which was frequently blocked. This resulted in overflows of human waste across the front entrance. A visit by the Bridewell Governors in 1598 noted that the facility was "filthely kept" (MacDonald, 1981, p.238). Patients were given pots to relieve themselves and were left in their own excrement with only straw upon which to sleep. Unsurprisingly, the nutritional provisions of the patients were greatly inadequate. Patients were malnourished and only fed bread, meat, oatmeal, butter, cheese, and an enormous amount of beer. Fruits and vegetables were generally non-existent in their diets. The dietary portions seem to reflect the prevailing humoral theory of that time period (Houston, 2007, pp. 114-138).
It wasn't until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that there was a paradigm shift in the attitudes toward treatment of mentally ill individuals. Instead of emphasizing physical control, the focus rested upon instituting self-discipline through a system of rewards and punishments. In 1796, the York Retreat, advocates of lunacy reform, exercised this concept in an attempt to re-socialize Bethlem's patients (Houston, 2007, pp. 114-138). Subsequent visits by one of Bethlem's Governors in 1815, prompted a national campaign for lunacy reform (Houston, 2007, pp. 114-138). Though Bethlem is still in existence, it is now a professionally run mental hospital.
Part 2: Willowbrook
Built in 1938, Willowbrook State School was a New York State supported facility for mentally impaired children, though no children were enrolled until 1947. During the second World War, this institution was utilized as a veteran's hospital to care for returning injured soldiers; however, at the war's conclusion, the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene began operating the facility as was originally intended (Peele, 1985, p.1111).
Willowbrook experienced an adverse combination of political, economic, legislative, and social challenges that contributed to disgraceful conditions at the school (Peele, 1985, p.1111). By the 1960's there were numerous practices taking place that included unethical medical studies, abusive behavior by the staff, and serious overcrowding. The facility was built for 4000 residents, even though at its peak there were over 6000 (Grossman, 1987, pp. 249-259). Overcrowding was one of the reasons given to limit admission of new patients and coerce parents to enroll their children in the unethical hepatitis studies conducted 1963-1966 (EDC, 2009, pp.1-4). Eventually public pressure forced an end to the research. Children were not interacted with or offered an education of any kind. Often they were simply placed in a cell and forgotten. Accurate records of admission and treatment were not documented by staff and cruel practices such as electroshock therapy were employed frequently. Allegations of physical and sexual abuse were usually dismissed in order to protect the school's reputation (Peele, 1985, p.1111).
Even in 1965, when Senator Robert Kennedy called Willowbrook a "snake pit," (Peele, 1985, p.1111) conditions worsened, until they were uncovered in the early 1970's. These allegations were detailed in a Staten Island newspaper (Peele, 1985, p.1111), and shortly after Geraldo Rivera launched a series of television programs that informed the nation of the deplorable living conditions at Willowbrook (Peele, 1985, p.1111). Public outcry sparked legislative action. The result was a class action suit filed in 1972, though it took three years for the federal court to render a decision. A consent judgment was passed by Congress in May 1975, ordering reform to take place, but noncompliance and the passing of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act in 1980, led to the school's closure in 1987 (Peele, 1985, p.1111).
The definition of adequacy varies from country to country and is subjective to consideration of specific cultural, social, environmental, and economic factors.(United Nations, 1948, p.1). While this is a mandate that should reflect equality, each government is given the latitude of segregating individuals by demographic sectors and dealing with each sector in an “un-equal” manner. Poor people may be treated as poor; and different culture may receive preference over others in the same general location. It is hoped that the governments of the world will choose to exercise the spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law.
Butcher, J.N., Mineka, S.,& Hooley, J. (2007). Abnormal psychology. 13th Ed., Boston, MA: Pearson, Inc.