An alternative is desperately needed
Of all the afflictions that can be visited on a human being, severe mental illness has to be the harshest. Make me deaf, poke my eyes out, relegate me to a wheelchair but please don’t let me lose my sanity.
I write these words because, as I’ve mentioned on my blog, I have been commissioned to pull together over the next few weeks my community’s report on homelessness in the area. In that I am grateful to the dogged work carried out by the volunteers on the various committees who are feeding me the info, stats etc. in order that I might put it all into words that the wretched powers-that-be might understand and might even develop some political will to do something for our most disenfranchised.
Beginning 20-odd years ago some benighted, though maybe well-intentioned politicians here (and in many other jurisdictions) decided that asylums were an affront and that people should not have their human rights to freedom of movement curtailed just because they were ill. Splendid. So, they came up with schemes to shutdown institutions and to let the people ‘out’. Guided by visions of snake-pits, lobotomies and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, they decided that the old concept of relegation to Bedlam was just wrong. Consequently, Riverview Hospital (second only to Belleview in New York in capacity) was largely emptied out, except for those deemed criminally insane.
Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t.
So, as they say, they let the mentally ill ‘out’. And, they replaced the facilities with – nothing! For all intents and purposes, diddly-squat. And, the relegated the mentally ill to disgusting, filthy and violent fleabags or, as is now more common, the streets! We know they did.
We see these lost, shuffling, often hugely addicted souls pushing shopping carts, begging, screaming invective to the skies or to a God who doesn’t seem to be listening to their utterances; pissing in doorways, scoring drugs, and hating the hideousness of their so-called lives. Yet and we seemed to be satisfied that we had given them their ‘freedom.’
And now there is no one to see if they are taking meds, no one to see if they are safe, no one to see if they have any place at all to live other than putting up at a shelter for maybe a few nights. Small wonder they use street drugs and booze and hope they can raise enough hell to be thrown in jail overnight where at least they'll be dry and warm.
Just last week the Vancouver Police Department released a scathing treatise on how the cops have been left, thanks to the failure of the Mental Health nabobs in this province, to pick up the pieces and to, in effect, act as mental health social workers for a client base that has been ignored by officialdom.
Recently, and blessedly, the cry has gone out to bring back facilities. The perceptive and talented Jody Paterson has brought up the matter in her powerful series on homelessness in Victoria (you can find it on her blog A Closer Look), and fellow blogger Tai has also written a thoroughly worthy piece on the matter in her latest blog. I applaud the drive in this direction and I give no government leave to assume that the fuss will die down. It cannot do so. The people who take our tax bucks are on notice, in my esteem.
So, now I must get back to the reality of pulling this big story together, and I must ponder the reality of the 250 or so lost souls out on the streets (80% of whom are mentally ill, drug addicted, or mentally ill and addicted) and voice gratitude for both my comfort and relative stability that has permitted me to function down my days.
I don’t necessarily feel guilty, but I do feel blessed, and also feel that I have to continue to do my part to make life just a little more tolerable for the forgotten. Just like a lot of other good folks are doing. Too bad so few politicians are among those numbers.
Labels: Mental illness and homelessness