A couple of things in the news have prompted me to write about homelessness. One is a recent online article of the Manhattan Institute stating that deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill continues in New York. The article said Governor Cuomo continues to budget further reductions in the State’s beds for the mentally ill. According to The Manhattan Institute, reducing the number of beds over many years has caused increasing homelessness, with the further result that many end up in jail without treatment – or, on the street.

I remember years ago having a conversation wherein I maintained that homelessness was increasing because of deinstitutionalization. This did not fit with my friends’ notion of the cause; Ronald Reagan. The Reagan administration did indeed reduce Federal funding for housing. The contention is that the reduction in new public housing resulted in more homelessness. Sounds logical on the surface but I don’t think it is true; New York City kept the same level of public housing construction as before, so I’ve read. I would guess the reason is that the City and State made up the slack caused by the reduction in Federal funds. Whatever the reason for the steady level of public housing construction, lack of public housing was not the reason for increased homelessness and a very likely culprit was deinstitutionalization.

Recently, I heard another blame placement on Ronald Reagan. This time it was on Spectrum’s New York City television news program. The segment was about a charity called The Doe Fund that seeks to help the homeless get jobs. The person interviewed stated that Ronald Reagan cut funds for housing in 1980 and the amount of homelessness has gone up ever since because we are not investing enough in public housing.

I can see several problems with this: one, the aforesaid reason that there was not a reduction in New York of public housing construction during the Reagan Administration. Second, there was a continual reduction in State hospital beds, starting years before 1980 and continuing to this day. Third, assuming the speaker was a liberal, would he deny that there have been many chances for Democrats, the supposed liberal solution, to have rectified Reagan’s supposedly heartless policy? The Democrats have held power for many of the years since demon Reagan left office.

Finally, can anyone seriously think “public” housing is the solution after the revelations that have come this year about the dangerous conditions in public housing? Conditions that would and should lead to indictments when committed in the private sector? The worst landlord in New York City by far is New York City.

I placed “public” in quotes because I believe a more honest term for public housing is government housing. The term public suggests we citizens run these units but specific government departments run them.

I want to clarify with emphasis that I do not think the solution is to put more people into State mental institutions. These institutions have inevitably turned into nightmares for the people housed in them. Cruel, negligent treatment of vulnerable people. I do not know what a good solution is and think there might not be one. Some say more localized care would be better, but do we really know how to treat the mentally ill successfully?

I have read that there has been a long, cyclical history of dealing with the mentally ill. Put them away, get them out of our sight and pretend we are helping them; followed by guilt at the revelations of abuse in State hospitals, followed by release onto the streets, which in turn is followed by efforts to get them off the street so we don’t have to see them. The situation is so sad because our ability to help seems so limited.

I also wish to clarify I am not an unmitigated fan of Ronald Reagan. I agree with some things he did and not others.

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