Should the Homeless Be Locked Up?


Interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Education delves into the question of involuntary commitment, particularly with reference to homeless woman Joyce Brown. A decade-plus ago, Brown was briefly a cause celebre after she was picked up under a newly passed NYC law that mandated taking in street people under certain weather conditions.

One thing the various experts in the story never really grapple with is how who pays for treatment affects policy. For instance, one academic "would like to see many more public resources devoted to treatment. Care for mentally ill people and the legal standard for detaining them should be separate issues, she says. 'If a homeless person wants treatment, she shouldn't have to show that she's 'dangerous,' just that she's very ill and wants help.'"

Maybe. But clearly once the state is paying, it's going to be calling the tune in a very significant way–and ways that will always leave large numbers of people unhappy with any given policy. [Link courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily]

Reason's own Jacob Sullum and Brian Doherty have recently treated similar issues at length here and here.

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  1. Not locked up–launched into the embrace of interstellar space.

  2. The problem of providing care for the homeless is no different from any other problem the government attempts to solve along the lines of ‘creating a social safety net’. In other words, it reduces the natural tendency all of us have not to fall off the tightrope. Before Christmas there was a link on Hit & Run to an article about the troubles a private homeless community was having in Oregon, not the least of which was a noticable number of folks showing up that weren’t really ‘homeless’ in the traditional sense – just looking for a low rent existence.

    I support private efforts to help the homeless, but when the government gets behind it charity all too easily becomes entitlement, a helping hand becomes an ongoing handout.

  3. Any government program is subject to the Law of Unintended Consequences. Take the welfare system….I don’t think anyone intended GENERATIONS of welfare recipients from a single family. But it happened. I believe much of the current homeless problem is the result of governmental mandates to deinstitutionalize many mentally ill individuals in the ’70s. The result is that many of these people have no ability to lead a “normal” life. sounds like an unintended consequence to me.

  4. There are people who have legitimately been helped by drugs (such as low-dose thorazine) and restored to previous full function, so it would be unreasonable to condemn all treatment. However, the dilemna exists as to handling the large percentage of homeless, including those deemed ‘mentally ill’. They do not own or rent so have no right to ‘squat’ on someone else’s property. I would advocate requiring them to stay in a shelter – even if it’s just to sleep. There should be adequate dormitory shelters available for all homeless people to safely rest and care for themselves. Medication and healthcare should be available on demand. Unfortuante circumstances should not deprive anyone of freedom, dignity, or safety – which is the present abominable situation. A country that can afford to ship a hundred thousand soldiers and equipment half way around the world to kill people that aren’t our enemies surely can afford to care for it’s most vulnerable population.

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