Rather than tear down housing in Detroit, let's repurpose it to house, treat and rehab our nation's mentally ill homeless citizens.
The Reagan era dismantling of our nation's mental hospitals in favor or "community based mental health" outpatient clinics has been a disaster and needs to be re-imagined. While homelessness has decreased in most American cities, in New York and Los Angeles, homelessness has grown exponentially. Los Angeles, where I live, has been overwhelmed with an increase in the number of homeless people and the insufficiency of housing. Perhaps California might make better use of some of some of its Proposition 63 money to help Detroit build a world class treatment hub. Perhaps Hawaii, which plucks the homeless in downtown Honolulu, off the streets and gives them a one way ticket back to the mainland would show more Aloha by sending them to Detroit – where it is cold, but where our mentally ill, homeless citizens could receive a home of their own and live in a supportive therapeutic community. Or perhaps the entire nation should have a tax to fund mental health care as California now does – and a large portion would be to used to build Detroit into a world class, state of the art mental health research, drug rehab, and treatment center - not like the old mental hospitals and not like the current clinics that have no housing.
A recent study in the L.A. Times showed that giving a homeless person a place to live - even if still addicted to street drugs! - is the most cost effective way to successfully treat traumatized, dysfunctional homeless people. The concept is supportive housing where there are therapeutic staff close at hand as part of the residential plan. Yes, such therapeutic communities would require special protections for workers and residents, some sort of guards - and a trained legion of mental health workers (that w don't have to be shrinks with Ph.Ds) but a new kind of certificated therapeutic worker, trained specifically for a new model of care. That would be mean lots of good jobs for residents of Detroit and others who would move there to do this work.
Closing Statement from Tristine Rainer
The reactions to my proposal were outrage – that a plan to house and treat our homeless, mentally ill and addicted citizens by repurposing Detroit’s empty housing was equivalent to sending them to a concentration camp. People objected that this plan would ghettoize people; it would be taken over by an uncaring private-public partnership that would be run by for-profits that would further victimize the homeless, that it would isolate them from family and friends. Yet this is exactly what is going on with our current disastrous system of community mental health care, minus housing. In expensive cities such as Los Angeles and New York where homelessness has increased exponentially "wrap-around services" at homeless mental health centers too often is simply a group of professionals who hand out SSI money to the homeless or help them get food stamps, but don’t have any shelter to offer them. With the cost of housing in Los Angeles and New York, people have no choice but to live in parks, in riverbeds and under bridges from which the police regularly expel them. The dire condition of the buildings in Detroit may make my proposal unrealistic, according to many commenters, but no one had any other ideas for what could be done to improve things. My own conclusion is that nothing short of a presidential initiative to discover what models of mental health care are working in this country and in other countries, and to revamp our system accordingly, will work. Most homeless people are mentally ill or traumatized and most become drug addicts in an attempt at self-medication. In our current system we give them just enough money to eat to stay alive long enough for their addictions to slowly kill them. It is hard to not to conclude that this is what our country wants - a gentle and invisible "Final Solution" rather than visible concentration camps - or the more humane solution of reconstructing mental hospitals that were eliminated to save taxpayer money.