Portland’s Trouble with Homelessness

Michael Totten joins City Journal editor Brian Anderson to discuss the issue of homelessness in his hometown of Portland, Oregon.

Portland is often called the “City of Bridges” for the many structures that cross the city’s two rivers. Underneath many of those bridges are homeless encampments complete with tents, plastic tarps, shopping carts — and people.

Oregon’s Supreme Court has blocked efforts to regulate homelessness in Portland, leading the city’s political leaders and nonprofits to explore new options as the situation has worsened.

City Journal is a magazine of urban affairs, published by the Manhattan Institute.

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  1. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    More important than the shortage of funds to build CMHCs (Community Mental Health Centers) was the problem of operating funds.  The CMHC Act had envisioned federal funding of operating budgets as a temporary matter, until such time as fees from clients, health insurance reimbursements, and state and local subsidies took their place.

    The difficulty in finding permanent operating budgets for CMHCs made the 2000 center goal impossible. The radical political sentiments of the time also seduced at least some CMHCs into taking a broader, environmental view of their mission.  The mission was no longer simply helping mental patients in the community; it was alleviating poverty and racism so that there would be fewer clients in the future.

    Whatever the merits of this argument with respect to depression and neuroses, there was no realistic possibility that these laudable social goals would have prevented schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or any of the other biochemically-based mental illnesses. (Reducing drug abuse would have made a difference, but this was not initially a major concern of the community mental health movement.)

    Clayton E. Cramer. My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (Kindle Locations 4077-4090).

    This comports closely with what I heard in the mid to late 1960s around the kitchen table in conversations with my psychiatric social worker mother (experience from locked wards to early CMHCs; her professors loved the prospect of a bigger role for MSWs with more CMHCs)  and, later, my psychiatrist stepfather too.

    • #31
  2. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    @marcin, I’m not dismissing your experiences in the trenches with your mother at all. I heard about it from the caregiver side. I remember my mother coming back from work fuming. As the newbie on the psych totem pole she wouldn’t have gotten any traction with “Are you people out of your minds? These patients can’t take care of themselves, what makes you think they’ll come to a CMHC for group and individual therapy and especially for meds they hate taking?”

    Never underestimate the damage intellectuals with a theory can do when you put them in charge and reality turns out to be bigger and more complex than what’s covered by the theory:

    Look at what happened with Moses and Aaron with Pharaoh in the first plagues: The warning is given to Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron call forth first snakes, then blood in the water, then frogs. In each case Pharaoh consults his experts – “yes, boss, don’t knuckle under, we understand this stuff better than those clowns do.

    See? More snakes!”

    Rinse, repeat: “More blood!”

    And again: “More frogs!”

    I can practically hear Pharaoh: “Oh joy. Even more frogs.” I almost have some sympathy for him.

    Almost. Expert advice doesn’t take away the leader’s responsibility. Particularly when the leader has assumed god-like status.

    There is plenty of blame to go around: three branches of government, the ACLU, the mental health professions. The decisionmakers of the time are almost all dead now.

     

    • #32
  3. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    What I found the most frustrating to deal with was the ignorance of the professionals I dealt with over the thirty years I worked within the system to get care for my mother.

    I probably would have liked your mother. The people I most admired were the psychiatric social workers. Their thinking was very close to mine: “What can we do now today?”

    If I could destroy one myth out there about the severely mentally ill, it would be that they are happy in their own little world. It is not the case at all. It is lonely and terrifying.

    The medications are better today that they were in the original Haldol days, and we understand them better. A young person today who is suffering from schizophrenia–and I am choosing my wording intentionally here because nothing makes me more nervous than labeling people as “schizophrenics”–has an excellent prognosis. Boston University has a world-renowned rehabilitation program going that is breathtaking in its success. And Harvard has been making great progress as well. There is so much hope for the future.

    • #33
  4. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Thank you, by the way. I’ve actually enjoyed this conversation. It’s nice to talk to people who have some understanding.

    My mother was a movie-star gorgeous young woman, sensitive, highly intelligent, artistic. It was truly horrible to watch what happened to her. I was not able to do anywhere near as much as I wanted to, but I did help a little. And least she got to know her three grandchildren, and they got to know her. She was a big part of their lives.

    It was a paperwork nightmare. The big joke to me about community care is the paperwork. Okay, let’s try this out: the person is mentally ill and you think she or he can fill out this twenty-page application for Section 8 housing? What’s wrong with this picture.

    The only reason I was able to rent an apartment for her was because I signed for it. And that was the starting point of getting the care she needed.

     

    • #34
  5. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    MarciN (View Comment):
    Boston University has a world-renowned rehabilitation program going that is breathtaking in its success. And Harvard has been making great progress as well. There is so much hope for the future.

    Thank you. We all have pieces of the puzzle that we’re closer to, and I’m grateful that  you’re passing on your experience.

    • #35
  6. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Ontheleftcoast (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):
    Boston University has a world-renowned rehabilitation program going that is breathtaking in its success. And Harvard has been making great progress as well. There is so much hope for the future.

    Thank you. We all have pieces of the puzzle that we’re closer to, and I’m grateful that you’re passing on your experience.

    Given your mom’s background, I have to share this part of the story. I was nineteen the first time my mother was committed to Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts. It was a psychiatric social worker who called me and basically said, “We’ve got to get your mother out of here. She is getting worse, not better.” She set up my mom in a rooming house, where my mom got sicker but basically did okay within a pretty nice small town of Wakefield, Massachusetts. It lasted ten years that way.

    I’ve always loved that social worker. She was truly a wonderful person. :)

    • #36
  7. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I’ve always loved that social worker. She was truly a wonderful person. ?

    ?

     

    • #37
  8. wilber forge Inactive
    wilber forge
    @wilberforge

    Vicryl Contessa (View Comment):
    I’ve also had patients that have told me they just moved to Portland because of the rich resources for the homeless. They move here to be homeless in Portland. I’ve had patients refuse programs to help them back on their feet- they would rather stay homeless and not have to get off drugs and get a job.

    It important to note that many other cities with the cronic homeless would purchase one way plane and bus tickets to Portland to be rid of them. Portland has been a dumping ground for a decade or two, so much for the idea of Good Intentions.

    You should have been in Portland in the 60s forward to appreciate the eternal folly of The Redistribution of Wealth Concept.

     

    • #38
  9. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Danver’s State Hospital was Lovecraft’s inspiration for Arkham Asylum. Batman comics ripped off H.P. Love craft and now Arkham Asylum is a huge international video game. Funny how that works.

    • #39
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