by PATTY CRAIN
I heard Joan Baez singing “There But For Fortune” on the car radio today.
The song is about the down and out “prisoners with pale faces, hobos who sleep in the rain, and a stumbling drunken man.”
All of them with “many reasons why.”
The song certainly can be related to some of the difficulties that this town and country are currently witnessing, especially regarding the homeless, the addicted, and the mentally ill.
And it should remind us that, “There but for fortune, may go you and I.”
We all need to consider our lives and how we managed to make our way through society to achieve order and success and how it is that others end up in chaos, in alleys, and under bridges. I don’t believe that any one of us in the former category can say that we have never, at one time or other in our lives, heard, seen, or felt what the people in the latter category have felt and still feel, hear, and see.
Have we not all, at some time, felt out of our depth, rejected, judged, unable to cope, angry, or sad?
Have we not all, at some point had calamity strike, been laid off, injured, evicted, diagnosed with a debilitating illness, or lost a family member?
So how is it that some of us can resolve those difficulties and move on while some just stay stuck or spiral further downward?
Part of the answer lies in the song’s title, “There But For Fortune.”
The ones who moved on were fortunate enough to have a support system that said, “So what can you do to resolve this situation?” rather than one that said, “Here, I’ll give you some money—that should fix it.”
Rescuing does, in general, help a person out of a specific difficult situation.
But it helps them out only for the short term.
It doesn’t help the person learn how to resolve this situation this time, or when it happens again. Rescuing really just gives the person an easy way out, not a learning opportunity.
What needs to happen, and what happened to us who moved on, is that we were fortunate enough to be given learning opportunities and thus learned how to solve life’s problems.
So how do we transfer this insight into solving our current problem of a growing homeless, addicted, and mentally ill population?
What is currently happening is the moneyed solution.
More and more money is being ‘invested’ in this population to house, feed, and support their chaotic lifestyle. Everything they are provided with is “low barrier.”
Everything is given with no expectations or accountability, except perhaps the unspoken idea that this population will then “behave” and not be so public in their chaotic lives.
The government is saying, “Here. I’ll give you some money-that should fix it.”
But lets face it, this group of people doesn’t know how to fix it.
If someone gives them money, no strings attached, they just spend it. The problem still remains. They need to learn how to fix the problem, and we need to offer them learning opportunities. Instead of just giving this group of individuals “free” money, we need to make them accountable for it.
The ones that are addicted can collect their social assistance or disability cheque, but in order to do that, they must show that they have started the process of detoxification and treatment.
Personally, I’d rather my tax dollar be invested in detox and treatment facilities or high barrier housing than in higher and higher disability cheques.
As well, people who suffer from diagnosed mental illnesses can also get their cheques, but must show that they are getting or receiving ongoing treatment and support.
I’m not saying that the governments should not be involved.
Rather than just handing out no-strings- attached money, all levels of government should be working together to help plan and finance a cohesive workable solution that offers learning opportunities and encourages accountability.
Different levels of government should work together to: build or acquire high barrier professionally staffed housing; build or acquire detox facilities; build or acquire treatment centers with professionally staffed sober living homes for follow up.
Additionally, governments should finance/provide the current acute psychiatric facilities with more longer term facilities that provide follow up, ongoing rehabilitation, and support.
Short stays on acute psychiatric units with minimal follow up care are not sufficient.
The people frequently end up addicted, on the streets, or in jails. They can, however, with ongoing support, rehabilitation, and staffed boarding homes, learn or relearn their daily activities and thus achieve a fulfilling life.
So, again, I reiterate, we need to think about this pertinent song and feel fortunate.
We need to feel fortunate that we have the ability and knowledge to face anything and to solve any of life’s problems.
And we need to share that knowledge with the “prisoners,” the “hobos,” and the “drunken men” in ways that will enable them to live an orderly and safe life.
In order to do that we have to get started.
Patty Crain is a retired healthcare professional living in Trail.