I'm not a big fan of starting new government programs or increasing social spending, but there is one particular need that I believe our society should be willing to invest more money into: care and treatment of the mentally ill. Clayton Cramer has a very touching, personal account of his brother's struggle with schizophrenia, and the many instances in which society failed to properly recognize and treat his condition.
Clayton launches from his brother's case and argues persuasively for a drastic expansion of the public mental health system; not only does compassion demand that we care for those among us who are truly incapable of living on their own, but it is essential for public safety as well.
For almost 20 years now, people calling themselves "homeless advocates" -- meaning that they call themselves advocates for the homeless, not they themselves are homeless -- have tried to use this tragedy as variously, an indictment of capitalism, Ronald Reagan, or the heartlessness of various city governments. It is clear, from surveys of the homeless, and from my own experience with my brother, as well as talking to and helping homeless people for more than 20 years, that this tragedy is mostly the result of a well-intentioned effort that started in the 1970s, to make it difficult to lock up mentally ill people against their will. ...
So far, I've mostly focused on the suffering of the mentally ill. But there's another side as well -- the danger to our society when people with a limited grasp on reality wander the streets. Let's face it -- most people in this county wouldn't spend $50 to save a homeless person from freezing to death. If you want to appeal to the masses, you need to point out to them the public safety side of this tragedy.
The places change, the victims change, but the tragedy keeps repeating. A month or two ago, it was at a church in Fort Worth. A month before that, it was Buford Furrow shooting kids in Los Angeles. Last year, Russell Weston Jr. murdered two police officers at the U.S. Capitol. There's a common element to all these tragedies -- all the killers were clearly mentally ill months to years before they started shooting people. These three recent high-profile cases draw the picture in blood.