Years ago as a nursing student I visited a mental health facility that warehoused hundreds of people who could not live on their own and function in normal society. They seemed happy and comfortable. They had three meals a day, a safe place to sleep, and access to TV, games and books during the day. Their mental illnesses were treated and there was a certain amount of dignity in the facility. Months later there was a political nightmare about the closing of these facilities. The people in them were given prescriptions for their mental health drugs and turned out on the street.
Now many years later, we have a homeless population living on the streets causing a public health and safety risk with untreated mental health or drug issues. What did we gain? What did they gain?
There will always be people in the population who cannot take care of themselves, who are mentally ill, or drug addicted. There must be a way to provide for them respecting their rights and recognizing their inabilities. It seems to me that the “warehouses” were far more humane than the cold hard insecure streets where they are victimized regularly.
Why can’t we take them into custody, give them a welfare and mental health evaluation and protective housing, provide them with needed medications and counseling until they are able to care for themselves and live on their own?
Some communities are providing old motels where they can sleep safely and shower regularly, but there is no recognized model for their care and too few of these retreats. We need to set up committees to consider this problem and recommend a model solution that protects the rights of the homeless while providing them a safe shelter and healthy meals. It is obvious they can’t do it for themselves. We are turning a blind eye to their human needs in order to protect their “rights” to self-determination.
One suggestion I’ve heard is to turn a multiple story parking lot into stalls for homeless to place their tents. It could be hosed out and steam cleaned periodically. Restrooms could be installed on each floor. A locker on the back wall would allow safe storage of a few belongings. Local charities could take turns furnishing one nutritious meal a day on the ground floor. Other services could be available there also. Interfaith and other organizations do a fabulous job with what they can solicit, but the homeless numbers are growing faster than they can handle. We have to do something better than we are doing now.
A friend has an 80 year old sister she has been trying for years to get off the street, After several years on a waiting list she was finally approved to move into a $500/ month apartment. Her sister drove two days to get here to help settle her into this safe housing, her social security check could easily afford. But she refused to take the apartment. Her mental illness kept her from trusting the safety of this possibility. A woman over 80 years of age couldn’t be forced to accept this wonderful gift.
There is something wrong with our society! We used to treat unstable humans better. We treat stray animals better.
BARBARA SAAD, Escondido