Friday, May 08, 2009

Mental illness, hard streets and public policy

Texas leaders boast about the state's financial surplus. Of course, they don't mention just how poorly Texas stacks up when it comes to providing for our most vulnerable residents.

Take the state's standing in mental health services for the extremely poor--48th!

The story turns terribly sad when you begin to put faces with the data. The movement to de-institutionalize treatment strategies for the mentally ill that swept the nation in the 1960 and 1970s dumped thousands of patients on the streets of Texas cities in hopes that breakthroughs in new medications would allow patients to live on their own. Trouble was funding for follow up, case management and a robust network of community support just wasn't funded.

Kim Horner's latest entry in her ongoing series on homelessness in Dallas, published by The Dallas Morning News, gets at the awful reality confronting the chronically homeless here in Dallas. This paragraph early in her report grabbed my attention:

"We've just come to accept the fact we have homeless people roaming the streets like we have rats roaming the alleyways," said Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. "We have grown accustomed to having human beings living on the streets. It's kind of a sad commentary."

Take a moment to read Horner's sobering report here.

Unknowing folks find it easy to dismiss the homeless poor as hopeless, lazy, shiftless bums who choose to stay on the streets rather than work to enter the mainstream. Not only is this analysis based on cruel and lazy thinking, it is simply incorrect.

Homeless persons need homes and they need them now. Housing allows everything else to fall into place, even for individuals with mental illness.

It's past time our leaders in Austin woke up. Huge surpluses in a day and time of such suffering on our streets is nothing about which we should feel any pride. Shame fits our circumstances much better.


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