Thursday, February 21, 2008

Safety must supersede freedom

Three homeless men died on Long Island in the severe weather. Alexander Roberts, a homelessness advocate, writes in Newsday today that those deaths, “would have been avoided last week if police were allowed to force people living on the street into a temporary shelter in the freezing weather.”

He recounts the sad 20 year old story of Billie Boggs, a woman “protected” by civil libertarians from involuntary treatment, who was able to gain her freedom to live with psychosis and without a home.

Robert suggest that the answer should be involuntary shelter for people who are “imminently dangerous” to themselves and will not take care to get themselves out of the freezing cold. An even more helpful solution is for the mental health system to start caring for those who are homeless due to untreated severe mental illness; for mental health professionals to use both the inpatient and outpatient treatment laws to help restore such individuals to a level where they can make competent decisions about the need for shelter; and, for all of us to hold the mental health system responsible for maintaining the safety net for the individuals it so routinely tosses to the elements.

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