Conference Tackles Homelessness and Mental Health Challenges in the Global South

PUBLISHED ON September 12, 2016

The McSilver Institute was a co-sponsor and NYU Silver School Professor and McSilver Faculty Fellow Dr. Deborah Padgett was one of the conveners of the International Conference on Justice and the Rights of Homeless Persons with Psychosocial Needs held in Chennai, India from September 1-3, 2016. The three-day event brought together presenters from around the world and more than 200 delegates from across India to explore innovative and culturally replicable care models, and to develop an advocacy platform to affect change in mental health in the Global South. According to Dr. Padgett, “The conference represented a collective effort to address homelessness by convening experts in research, practice, policy, and lived experience to share what we know and to learn from each other.”

Hosted by The Global South Initiative for Social Action in Mental Health, the conference was organized by Chennai-based non-governmental organization The Banyan and its Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM), in collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai as well as the McSilver Institute.

Dr. Padgett, co-author of the book, Housing First: Ending Homelessness, Transforming Systems, and Changing Lives, explained, “Homelessness is a global epidemic that affects us all. It is particularly acute in the Global South, where there is a high prevalence of extreme poverty. As a committed researcher on homelessness who also embraces social justice, I have witnessed the devastating effects of being un-housed and socially unwanted on the sidewalks of New York City and Delhi. For persons with serious mental illness, the consequences are dire as they struggle with stigma as well as severe deprivation. Decades of research and public spending in the West have not ended this problem; however, many visionary innovations such as Housing First and The Banyan’s work in Tamil Nadu show how much can be done to help others in distress.”

Global South Conference
Dr. Deborah Padgett, far left, with fellow panelists and Banyan program participants during
a Q&A session at the end of the conference’s second day


Over the course of the conference, Dr. Padgett presented on Housing First in the United States; spoke about the partnership between The Banyan – BALM and NYU and her work in mental health and homelessness; and participated in a panel on Stewardship, Research and Investments for Mental Health in Low Resource Settings. Other sessions addressed such topics as the landscape of mental health legislation and policy in the Global South; innovative approaches that bridge the treatment gap and promote access to care across diverse social, political and cultural contexts; the role of the state, non-governmental organizations, and funding agencies in promoting wellness across different stages of the care process; and the rights, ethical dilemmas, multiple realities, and the culture of care in mental health services.

Dr. Padgett noted, “Transforming systems is no easy task. To paraphrase the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, every journey begins with a first step. This conference was the first of what we who organized it hope are many steps in the right direction.”