Friday, August 31, 2007

Mental Illness on the Streets

Curfew Not the Issue After Protest

While staging a peaceful protest at Public Square, a fight broke out when a man who appeared to be mentally ill got aggressive with another man who wound up stabbing the mentally ill man in self defense, as reported by the Plain Dealer here. Megan Wilson of the Catholic Worker was there with the dozens of other protesters and they thankfully intervened before the assault escalated into murder. In response to claims that this sort of violence is the reason there should be a curfew on Public Square, the Plain Dealer recorded Wilson as saying:

"That's not the kind of violence that's affected by a curfew ordinance," she said. "If they hadn't been allowed on Public Square, they would have just fought somewhere less public where someone would have been less likely to see them and intervene and we would have had one more murder on the books in Cleveland."
Councilman Joe Cimperman, who needs no introduction, retorted with the view that this kind of violence is the reason the curfew is necessary, stating to the Plain Dealer:

"There's a reason why every single public space in Cleveland has a curfew," Cimperman said. "That's a really illogical statement. I am grateful that they were there, but for them to say that this is going to happen somewhere else is upside down logic. "For that matter, why don't we keep all the public parks open all night long and maybe the homicide rate in the city of Cleveland will go down – that just doesn't make sense."
First and foremost, this is a terrible thing that happened and an issue that definitely needs to be addressed. Whether or not our Councilman can understand the logic, the curfew does not address the issue at hand. The logic behind that statement is that the curfew was in effect at the time of the violence and the violence still occurred unabated. However, it is important to remember that the violence would not have been affected by the lack of a curfew, either. This is simply an incident that happened to occur alongside a protest of the recently enacted curfew.

But, it does speak volumes for the tired argument that we need to take better care of our mentally ill. There's nothing I can say about why or how that hasn't been said better. I've been working this job for a year and a half and I have seen way too many people with clear debilitating mental illnesses out on the street. I have been told things like, "I was once a servant to the King of England," and, "My name is God and yes, to thee, I fly," by people on the street. These people are real human beings who have lived lives longer than I have that are reduced to the status of a medieval "village idiot" because of obvious mental disorders we know how to treat. They're sick and in need of help and we leave them to wander the sidewalks and to sleep on the ground in the snow and the rain. We provide them out of the way alleys instead of public restrooms. Maybe a couple times a month we let them wash up in a sink at the library.

I hope this incident has the positive effect of drawing attention to the terrible mess we've made for people with mental illness so real change can be made, but I fear it will only make the public terrified of anyone who looks like they might be "crazy." This incident gives the fear-mongers a new scapegoat to toss to the lions. Most of all, I just wish this happened in some other context. This story is too easily warped for individual agendas. I hope that while being treated for his injuries they can treat him for the mental illness as well, but I understand that with no insurance a health care worker's hands tend to be tied pretty tightly.

Joshua Kanary

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

1 comment:

Cynthia Miller said...

Joe 'Simple'man's comment was what was "illogical".

Apparently, he feels that homeless people congregating on Public Square are the only danger downtown.

Obviously he has overlooked other areas of his ward where crime is rampant.

Let's see! HMMMM! The Warehouse District hasn't been safe lately. I seem to remember a shooting there recently.

OH, GEEZ! Homeless people weren't involved; just working paying customers at SPYBAR!

Well, can't impose a 10 p.m. curfew there for obvious economic reasons such as business failures, job losses, etc. This might lead to more homelessness.

I never read anything in the press or heard anything on the broadcast news that those involved in the crime wave in the Warehouse District are mentally ill. But, yet there are muggings, robberies, stabbings and shootings and they persist throughout Greater Cleveland.

The location (Public Square) of the stabbing and imposing a curfew (there) obviously aren't the issues.

And neither is the economic stature of the victims and the people who commit these crimes no matter where they occur.

So called 'rational' people from 'good families' terrorize if not murder the homeless daily around the world yet this issue is not addressed by law enforcement or city, regional or state officials.

Perhaps one of the homeless men involved in the stabbing on Public Square was mentally ill and yes, there is a shortage of long term care for these people whether they remain homeless or are moved into housing without continued care.

A curfew won't solve this problem either.