Readers respond to Paul Gionfriddo’s article on the homeless mentally ill


A man who helped shutter mental health facilities considers the effects on his schizophrenic son. (istockphoto)
October 22, 2012
Mental health ‘reforms’

Every day, I walk from the Inner Harbor in Baltimore to the far east edge of Fells Point. I encounter a number of people along the way, some of whom are mentally ill and may be homeless. I have come to know some of them, and I totally agree with Paul Gionfriddo’s assessment that mental illness combined with inadequate interventions are basic causes of homelessness [“Reforms’ did no good for my son, a street person,” Oct. 16].

I met one person who was in a sleeping bag on the edge of one of the canals that abut the piers at the harbor. Initially I talked to him because he was reading the same book I was and, frankly, I was surprised. We exchanged a few words about the book, and then he told me that he had trouble talking with people, and abruptly turned away. After that, I said hello every time I saw him. He almost never responded.

Fast-forward one year: He had gone to Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore, which helped him find a room and treatment for his illness; he was now selling water on the street to make money. He told me that he had a college degree but that he just could not cope with his illness and eventually ended up on the street. He also told me how much it had meant to him that I had spoken to him all those days.

I cannot describe the mix of feelings I had. Here was this young man, who really just needed some help to get better. Isn’t that what our better selves are asking of us?

Mary Toth, Baltimore

For those of us living in the District in the days of those “reforms,” it was almost immediately clear that the repeal of the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1964, replaced (ostensibly) by block grants, was a total disaster. We never had homeless on our streets, but after Reagan closed St. Elizabeths Hospital to the mentally ill (except for the criminally insane), many mentally ill people were on the streets and helpless.

We all knew them personally after a while because they became our long-term homeless, out every day fighting their demons and trying to get by. Some fell into drugs; most didn’t, but they could not care for themselves.

D.C. did a lot for them, as did the neighborhood, but it wasn’t sufficient. (It never is.) Even so, some entered community mental health programs and eventually made it back into civil society.

The country now faces a similar crisis: The Republicans, Mr. Romney and the tea party are insistent on repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with block grants to the states. One would think that people would learn from history. If they succeed, we would soon see the elderly having to do without health care, along with the poor and disabled, because the states will not be able to cope with the problem.

Karl K. Kindel, Washington

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