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Getting homeless people off the street begins with addressing sicknesses of the mind — potentially doing so without the expressed permission of the afflicted. Andrew Yang proposed precisely this during a New York mayoral debate last week, and terminally detached activists pounced on him for it.
But Yang is not wrong. Some estimates place the proportion of homeless people suffering from severe mental illness as high as 50%. How is it compassionate to condemn those suffering in this manner to a life of filth and danger on the streets?
Yang, who has an autistic son, has been smeared as everything from a fascist to an ableist bigot for merely suggesting that something ought to be done about the masses of mentally ill people roaming New York's streets. He correctly pointed out that New York’s festering homelessness crisis has “transformed the character” of many of its neighborhoods, lamenting that city dwellers often live in perpetual anxiety of random violence perpetrated by the homeless.
Take a walk around any major city nowadays, and you’ll have a pretty solid grasp of what Yang is getting at.
It wasn’t always like this. Homelessness on the scale we observe in our day-to-day lives is a fairly recent phenomenon, spurred by the 20th-century push to shutter state-administered mental hospitals and abolish involuntary admission to such facilities.
During his tenure as California governor, Ronald Reagan signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which effectively nullified the state's ability to commit the mentally ill to psychiatric wards involuntarily. Thousands of people incapable of functioning autonomously in greater society were cut loose, catalyzing a homelessness crisis.
Reagan was only part of a larger deinstitutionalization trend that gripped the nation from the 1970s onward. As more states began to follow California's example by closing their mental health institutions and abolishing involuntary hospitalization, the homeless population soared.
Crime and disorder followed the mass exodus of mentally ill people onto the streets. America was blindsided.
The problem has gotten much worse lately on the West Coast, thanks to a 9th Circuit Court decision, Martin v. City of Boise, which renders it impossible for most large cities to enforce their bans on public camping. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has declined to review the decision. Meanwhile, "woke" liberals on city councils around the nation are actually legalizing public camping without being forced by the courts.
Then again, voters in far-left Austin, Texas, just recently returned their verdict on the policy by reinstating the city's camping ban — perhaps a sign of hope that common sense akin to Yang's thinking is more common than anyone thought.
Apprehension toward the homeless isn’t just some prejudiced notion cooked up by squeamish, gentrifying yuppies, as a few of Yang’s critics suggest. Empirical data paints a grim portrait of American homelessness.
An amazing 28% of mentally ill people without homes are convicted of a felony sometime in their lifetime, compared to just 6% of the general population. Further, as many as one-third admit to engaging in criminal activity within a year of questioning.
Allowing mentally ill people to wander the streets aimlessly isn’t just harmful to the public — it also does a disservice to them. The vast majority of homeless people are themselves victimized by crime in their lifetime. It is neither good policy nor compassionate to oppose what Yang is advocating.
When the mentally ill are sheltered, even against their will, they commit a tiny fraction of the number of crimes and find themselves in an environment where they can receive psychiatric care.
"Involuntary" isn’t a dirty word, either. Those with severe mental illnesses are often incapable of making decisions that fall within their best interests. Is it ethical to let rot in alleyways those who lack the capacity to realize this? Mental illness among the homeless must be treated, for the good of all parties involved.
On the debate stage, Yang expressed frustration with the political nature of this issue. This is a frustration everyone ought to share. The mentally ill are deserving of our compassion, and we must also take action that facilitates public safety. That's not controversial.
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Original Author: Robert Schmad
Original Location: Andrew Yang is right about the mentally ill