Do We Need Vagrancy Laws?

The residents of Morrisville, Pa., got an insider look at our troubled mental health care system. Paulette Wilkie, a homeless woman with a long history of schizophrenia, was found dead from exposure. The 56 year-old woman’s body was discovered behind Ben’s Deli, a sandwich shop that she frequented. Temperatures the night before had dropped into the mid 20s. But that was not cold enough to trigger the county’s emergency homeless plan. Temperatures must sink to 20 degrees or below for two consecutive days before teams can be dispatched to try to persuade homeless persons to come indoors.

The owner of Ben’s Deli said Paulette Wilkie refused help from people concerned about her.  Wilkie, a homeless woman with a long history of schizophrenia, was found dead from exposure in Morrisville, Pa. Sadly, Wilkie’s death was a joint demo-repub effort. Back in the era of bipartisan collaboration, Ronald Reagan wanted to cut costs. They closed the mental hospitals to save $$. Ted Kennedy and the D’s thought the hospitals infringed in civil rights. So now, unless someone is really dangerous they can not be committed and if they could we would not have places for these sick people.

MEANWHILE, THIS IS THE SCENE OUTSIDE OH-SO RICH SEATTLE’S PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT OFFICES. In Sodo and Georgetown — known collectively as The Flatlands — crime is up 31 percent, driven largely by an increase in property crime. Police and business owners blame the rise on chronic drug users living in RVs who have moved into the industrial area.

Some of this is possible because of drugs.  We can adjust the behaviour of a [psychotic well enough so most, maybe many, can live outside of the oh-so evil mad house.  Besides, who want to be “put away” just because you are a bit crazy?  And how can we limit free speech just because someone is obsessed with Jesus or aliens in UFOs?

After all the babble may be unpleasant but free speech, unlike public urination, is protected by the First Amendment.

Meanwhile as many as 1/3 to 1/2 of the homeless in places like Seattle are said to be mentally ill.  Some of these folks, like Paulette Wilkie, do not want to sleep in a public shelter.   This may be a matter of a need to be free or simply a dislike for being around other people who are a threat to you.  Maybe you do not want to lose your dog or are afraid to lose your few possessions.

Was Paulette’s right to not be confined a good reason to let her freeze to death?



0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Roger Rabbit #

    Vagrancy laws have generally been struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, so we really are talking about involuntary commitment laws, which are permissible under certain circumstances, and policies relating to mentally ill people living on the streets. Some because they have nowhere to go; others because they don’t want to be in sheltered settings. There are no pat answers to this complex problem.