Posted on | December 11, 2012 | 23 Comments
Memeorandum features this headline from Think Progress:
This is false. It could only be true if the complex problem known by the misleading label “homelessness” were just a matter of money, but it’s not.
Homelessness made headlines in the 1980s and was exploited for purposes of partisan propaganda by liberals who saw an opportunity to dramatize what they construed as consequences of “Reaganomics.” In fact, as researchers discovered, homelessness is primarily caused by non-economic factors: mental illness, substance abuse and family disruption.
Insofar as homelessness resulted from public policy, it was not the Reagan administration’s budget policies, but rather the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill — a liberal priority during the 1970s — which had done most to aggravate the problem.
Prior to the 1970s, people with serious chronic mental illnesses like schizophrenia were for the most part incarcerated in psychiatric wards at state institutions. (For example, when I was a kid growing up near Atlanta, a common synonym for “crazy” was “Milledgeville,” the town where Central State Hospital was located.) As a result of court rulings, new ideas about the nature of mental illness and governmental policy, in the late ’70s long-term involuntary committment became much less common. Unless it could be proven that a patient was an immediate danger to himself or others, the mentally ill could not be hospitalized against their will.
As a result of these policy changes, many thousands of seriously deranged individuals were turned loose in society. While these patients were eligible for (and, in some cases, under court order to participate in) outpatient psychiatric treatment, many were unwilling or unable to cooperate with the outpatient process. This is, by the way, how the phrase “off his meds” entered our language as a slang for craziness.
If these liberated lunatics were off their meds — not taking the anti-psychotic drugs needed to control their symptoms — they were not incapable of self-medication, and many of them resorted to alcohol, marijuana and other drugs that did nothing to improve their condition. And as strange as it may seem, liberals in many instances actively assisted in keeping such people on the streets.
The most infamous case was Joyce Brown, alias “Billie Boggs,” a schizophrenic in New York City who in the 1980s defecated and urinated on the sidewalks of Manhattan, yelling obscene gibberish and harassing passersby. The American Civil Liberties Union went to court to protect the crazy woman’s right to live in this manner and, when authorities tried to have her involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment, her ACLU lawyers actually described Brown as a “political prisoner.” During one 1988 hearing, the ACLU represented Brown as having established “a fearless, independent life style.”
A junkie, a drunk or a schizophrenic may be “homeless,” but this isn’t a problem that can be solved with the money you could save by not decorating your home for Christmas. And the same is true of violent criminals, who make up a larger portion of the homeless population than most people are aware. Joyce Brown had a criminal record, including an assault charge in New Jersey, and so too did another notorious homeless drug addict who terrorized New Yorkers, Larry Hogue, the “Wild Man of 96th Street”:
He was big and he was bad, regularly mugging people to support his drug habit.
He set fires under cars, heaved rocks through stained glass church windows, masturbated in front of kids, stalked seniors and threatened children with nail-studded clubs.
Cops would arrest him and take him to the psychiatric ward, where he would be cut off from his crack supply.
After a few weeks his demons would disappear and he’d be back to his old tricks on W. 96th St.
Hogue’s case illustrates why money can’t prevent homelessness: Hogue received a $3,000-a-month disability check from Veterans Affairs, but his mental illness and drug abuse made him incapable of spending this responsibly, and his dangerous violence finally got him committed to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens.
There was never any shortage of housing or other assistance available to people like Joyce Brown and Larry Hogue. The problem was a set of government policies and court rulings that made it impossible to incarcerate them for their crimes, rescue them from their drug addiction or institutionalize them for their insanity.
Despite these facts, however, the Grinches at Think Progress want to guilt-trip Americans this holiday season by insinuating that Christmas decorations are the cause of homelessness.
To which I reply: “Bah! Humbug!”