It is both logical and humane to forcibly remove persons from the city's streets when cold weather threatens frostbite, hypothermia and death.
A Health Research Group study of Washington's homeless a year ago found that 39 percent of those living in shelters had schizophrenia. This finding is similar to studies done in Boston and Philadelphia. So far as I know, no psychiatric study has been done of Washington's homeless who actually live on grates and sidewalks, but a study in New York City suggested that at least 53 percent have schizophrenia. When this group is further divided into those who continue living on the grates and sidewalks in very cold weather, the percentage who have schizophrenia is certainly higher than that.
In the last decade, the evidence has become overwhelming that schizophrenia is a disease of the brain, just as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease are. To assume that a person with schizophrenia is capable of making intelligent decisions regarding his own needs is like assuming that a person with heart disease has normal cardiac function, or a person with liver disease has normal hepatic function.
Why do persons with schizophrenia choose to live on a sidewalk when the temperature is zero degrees? Many of the women I have treated at my clinic for the homeless live on the streets (or in the woods or in abandoned buildings) from time to time. One does so because she believes the Israeli secret service sneaks up on her and injects her while she is asleep, so she hides in obscure places. Another believes that all women in women's shelters are men in disguise, and she becomes very anxious in the shelters. Still another believes the CIA has killed her family and friends and replaced them with "clones" who look the same; she wants to stay one step ahead of them. And a fourth sleeps close to the White House to be near her son, whom she believes lives there. They are, in short, delusional.
There are certainly a few nonschizophrenic individuals who choose to remain on the sidewalks despite the cold weather; a brief examination will establish their sanity, and they can be allowed to live wherever they wish and to freeze to death if they wish.
But to fail to protect the rest -- the vast majority -- is callousness disguised as civil rights. Defending a schizophrenic's right to freeze to death is similar to defending a diabetic's right to remain comatose or a polio victim's right to remain paralyzed. In a civilized society, cruelty and liberty should never be confused.