The Human Cost of Short-Sighted Policy

On Monday Mom’s social worker called to say that the program she works under was about to lose almost 90% of its funding, which comes from King County.  This kind of a cut would functionally eliminate the program for nearly all of the 150 (of the most vulnerable/severely mentally ill) people who use their services.  My mom will be much less likely to receive medical care, protection, food, and down the road, housing, if these cuts are enacted.

The bottom line is that the mentally ill are already so vulnerable; taking away their services makes them more so.  For instance, “mentally ill homeless people are two to three times more likely to be the victim of crimes. Thieves see them as an easy mark and prey on homeless people who receive social security checks. Mentally ill homeless females are more likely to be raped. Murder is also more likely for mentally ill homeless people as many lack the survival skills needed for life on the streets.” (See this site for more info.)

It’s a national shame caused by short-sighted policies.  According to Mike Nichols, “at any given time, there are many more people with untreated severe psychiatric illnesses living on America’s streets than are receiving care in hospitals.”  And these people cycle between shelters, jails, and treatment facilities, costing more and more than if they were properly cared for.  When money is short, they are out on the street with very few services to help them cope.

The reality is that King County (like many places across the country) has a big problem and the Executive has an unenviable job.  They’re implementing cuts across the board, and also finding ways to eke out more efficiency.  But the bottom line is we’re in a crisis.  There are a number of essential programs for seniors, domestic violence victims, the Sheriff’s office, etc. that are under fire.

And yet, the gap between the rich and the poor in the United States grew the largest amount on record, according to census records, and Americans have the greatest gap among Western industrialized nations.  In my state, voters don’t want a more equitable taxation system.  And this is the result: the most vulnerable lose out again.  Is our system really working?  Not for my mom.  And not for the 150,000 to 200,000 mentally ill homeless like her.

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2 thoughts on “The Human Cost of Short-Sighted Policy”

  1. Penny,

    This is a powerful reminder that public policy is not an abstraction, to be swung around like pugil sticks at political opponents or invoked like a shibboleth in election season. It touches our lives and the lives of our fathers and mothers and neighbors. Your post also reminded me of something I learned from the organization Sojourners a long time ago – probably the best thing I learned from Sojourners – and that is that budgets are moral documents. They reflect where our priorities are as a community, and so often our priorities don’t seem to be with the most vulnerable among us.

    I can’t imagine the powerful emotions you must experience as you see this play out. I hope and pray that everything turns out alright for your mom, and for everyone else in her situation in King County.

  2. Thanks so much John. It’s never been easy to talk about this stuff, and having responses like this make it easier every time. Thank you so very much for your thoughts and prayers.

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