TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

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.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Dec 21 2013: Really I find this idea totally abhorrent, and in some way's it the real issue with people's perspective on the mentally ill, just dump them somewhere, no matter how your dress it up it comes down to.

    Out of sight, out of mind. Problem solved.

    It's the same mentality that some have had with children and school shootings, put metal detectors in schools, see no more problems. But ask yourself, does that really solve the issue for the kid, or does it add to their frustration, and so just delay the inevitable. And who cares, as if the temp fix works, that will do. Because no-one seemingly wants to get to the root of the problem and actually help the kid.

    Never mind a lot of mentally ill people actually function in society, albeit under the radar, and with a city like this, it surely would keep people from coming out or seeking pre-emptive help. As they'd be ripped from their job, their families, their life. Don't forget even the homeless have parents, and possibly children. The isolation and alienation from the world that being homeless brings, because of society's stigma towards them, might actually be a pre-cursor to mental illness, rather than the other way around.

    But back to Detroit, exactly what business, what industry, will ever invest or want to be located there? A nations dumping ground, well only those companies that are not concerned with people, but profits, and you can only too clearly see how some ceo's will see how then they can utilize the detritus of human capital to terrorize society with if you don't pay us more... we'll release them. Rather similar to toxic debt and bank bailouts, no?

    And exactly what would be Detroit's new city slogan, "Once your in, you never get out".
    • thumb
      Dec 21 2013: Steven, Perhaps the reason why you find this idea totally abhorrent is apparently you have a mind unwilling to surrender to mental illness. I can not agree with you more. Detroit is is the spiral down and will continue until it is said "enough is enough" we have to do something not the government who has helped to lead us to such a sad state! At some point we have to be willing to face ourselves as being the source of our own self created problems.

      Your new city slogan, "Once your in, you never get out". Sounds a little bit like hell doesn't it. One has to ask is Detroit and it's people worthy of being restored or am I my brothers keeper?
      • Dec 22 2013: Larry, why I find this idea totally abhorrent I hope will be clear at the end.

        I'll answer you last part first, Detroit does deserve to be restored. But in reality, one has to look and clearly understand why it got that way in the first place. Otherwise how will you ever know if you're not just setting Detroit up for yet another failure down the road.

        America, and not only her, but rather humanity as a whole goes for the shiny quick fix band aid solutions. In some ways I see those the cause of the financial issues of 2008, the quick buck with no regard for consequence ideology, which really is a contributor to the homeless issue, due to the massive amount of defaulting mortgages.

        As for mental health I think it's a hugely important issue, one that America has yet to honestly openly address. I for one have seen the actions taken by corporations regarding a severely effected person. The mindset was not to help the person by seeking medical attention, due to cost, but rather look for a reason to 'let him go', it's then "someone else's problem". I too found that abhorrent. I learned that's for the most part the reaction to mental health issues there. The implications of even admitting you have any disorder, combined with the original question implemented - I foresee - snatch squads, under the guise of helping, but really removing.

        A good learning resource is... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3FiKkkPw8M

        I do, though I disagree, appreciate that the original poster takes the time to think about the issues, inc Detroit. I hope my comments make people think about consequences of actions before their executed, by frank discussion about all possibilities in a rational and open way.

        You see I'd rather people discuss issues first, If only because I've learned, seen, and honestly to some degree being a part of that very ideology, but now I've come to the crystal clear realization...

        It's always easy to blindly implement ideologies, when someone else has to pay the price !
        • thumb
          Dec 23 2013: Steven, I watched the video in it's entirety. I was astounded at the progress made on the physical level of the brain in association with mental disease and mapping reflected areas. I am of the opinion what they are seeing is what can be called symptomatic and the panel even admits the source is unknown and there is no known cure. The value I see in the research is at least they can take some people deep in the disease process and arrest the progression. The downside is dependency on drug therapy. To gain further understanding one has to get closer to the unknown source. The same understanding can be transferable to the disease of the addict mind or the mentally disordered mind which by their nature share similar characteristics. The value of one human being helping another is that it is free and both parties receive dividends. The only way I know to be helpful is the bring clarity to a mind where it is not present as others continue to do for me.
      • Dec 23 2013: Larry, with absolutely no sense of condescension, I really am glad you watched the whole video.If your interested I hope you saw it's a part of a series.

        And in that series it really show's just how little we know, how much we have to learn, and ironically the two ladies that have issues, are probably more motivated than just about anyone else. Ain't that always the way.

        I posted it, not for the drugs, which seeming are now the only way to 'keep things in check', but how two professional people who, by the original post would have been dumped in a ghetto. Even they admit they didn't want to come forward, because it might have ruined their career.

        This is what people have to take away from this, that even though you might have something wrong with you, if you get a little help, you can go a long way.

        If those two people where not helped, but dumped, then it becomes humanities loss.

        And if we don't help, it we stigmatize, if we label, if we judge, it only reminded me of this song that was sung 40 years ago, and looking at Detroit, it's as relevant today as it ever was.....

        • thumb
          Dec 23 2013: Steven, Detroit once the symbol of American industrial might! Where has our industrial might gone off to? Industrial might is our ability to produce. Simple truth is if we continue to consume more than we produce there will be nothing left. American manufacturing and production will have to come home. On the national level we must be fully self supporting or we will be dependent on foreign interest. As recognized in this debate foreign interest is currently buying Detroit on the cheap.

          The women with the issues were the voice of experience, the wisdom.

          My personal view of the disease process whether it be called by any of the psychiatric terms is fear. Behind an addict the mentally ill or homeless is a fear based thought system. It would appear to be a common denominator. An interesting question would be does chemistry produce the thought process or does the thought process produce the chemistry?

          Perhaps this will get us out of a sad song.


          Merry Christmas!
      • Dec 23 2013: Larry,

        In answer to your first paragraph, it's been co-oped out, for the sake of profits. I think it will only 'come home' if people really demand it does. And people, all of us, have the power to make that change, if we demand it.

        Interestingly, i was watch two documentaries that show the current state of play very well, the first this that financial services, credit cards, debt, et al, account for more jobs than manufacturing. Second that the foreign interest is so large in the US that in 2008 Paulson of the treasury (his memoir, “On The Brink.”) had to appeal to both Russia and China not to pull the plug on America, over the debt crisis, if they did, we wouldn't be talking today.

        Even though Russia did dump $65.6 billion stock in both Fannie and Freddie, which were seized by regulators on Sept. 6, 2008.

        After watching the whole of that series on the brain, and many others in the same ilk on other topics.

        I see that both songs are relevant, if only one shows us where we are, and one shows us were we can be. And only through understanding can we ever hope to affect meaningful and lasting change, and to also answer your other point, fear can only be overcome through knowledge and understanding, there are many a terminally ill patient that will testify to that.

        And ironically, given the season we should all realize that we all have the power of resurrection, on a personal level, on a city level, and on a country wide level, all we have to do is have, the will, the determination, no matter what the odds, not matter what the effort, to see it though. I think that too answers your question about 'why Japan?', they did.

        A very merry Christmas Larry to you and your family. Thank you for participating in the conversation, for watching the Charlie Rose special link, I hope you find the time to watch them all. Also for having a very cordial and rational discussion about the whole subject - no matter how hard and emotional the subject matter was. It was a pleasure.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.