Thursday, May 29, 2008

Joking Aside: Why a Bus Ticket?

Earlier this month New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin caused a bit of a stir suggesting the way to solve the city’s post-Katrina homeless problem would be to give all the people living on the Big Easy’s streets a one-way bus ticket out of town.

He later explained he was joking, of course. But not before The New York Times and other major media outlets took notice.
Unity of Greater New Orleans, a network of agencies that help the homeless, reports that some 40 percent of the people living on the city’s streets suffer from a mental illness and an additional 19 percent face a combination of mental illness, disability or addiction.

This summer will mark three years since Katrina tore its path of destruction through the Gulf coast. For those 59 percent of New Orleans homeless with some form of mental illness, there is a good chance they received very little care before the storm struck. Now, proper mental health treatment is at best sparse.

So why a bus ticket?

Why not so many other things?

A new look at treatment and commitment laws should be high on that list.

In the midst of all that needs to be rebuilt in New Orleans, there is an opportunity. There is a chance to build a new mental health infrastructure and to do it right for the start. Reformng Louisiana’s restrictive laws is another critically needed step. Such changes make much more sense than a one way ticket to nowhere. Perhaps the mayor’s ill attempt at humor will shine some light on what needs to be done.