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Long on troubles, short on political clout in Olympia

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Nov. 28, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
November 26, 2010 6:03 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

On Thanksgiving Day, the decomposed body of a homeless person was found under an overpass in Thurston County near Interstate 5. Dying alone and out of sight is one of the ugly faces of homelessness.

Many of the chronically homeless are mentally ill. When the state economizes on the treatment of psychiatric disorders, sick people wind up on the sidewalks, in doorways and under bridges.

Some of the mentally ill – a small percentage, but too many – erupt in violence in the absence of case management and medications.

The man accused of a fatal hatchet attack on Seattle’s Capitol Hill a week ago heard voices and suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. He wasn’t taking his prescribed medications and, all too obviously, needed better tracking and care.

Similarly, a woman suspected of an unprovoked shooting in the Skyway area last week is believed to suffer from extreme paranoia.

As lawmakers prepare to make draconian cuts to state spending, they cannot lose sight of the citizens who will suffer the most from the loss of fundamental survival programs.

Such people are often distressed by problem upon problem. Mental illness, unemployment, poverty, lack of education, homelessness and severe physical disabilities have an unfortunate tendency to overlap and compound each other.

As it puts together a new budget, the Legislature must do everything possible to avoid hurting those who cannot fend for themselves.

Pierce County, which has more than its share of citizens with psychiatric illnesses, would especially suffer from proposed cuts to funding for the mentally ill.

Marginalized people often don’t fare well in the Legislature. It boils down to power.

Funding for the common schools is guarded by a constitutional mandate and a powerful K-12 establishment. Funding for prisons and criminal justice is guarded by the public’s demand for safety.

Funding for state employees’ expensive health care benefits is guarded by their unions and the Democratic lawmakers they help elect.

People who are homeless, traumatized, disabled or mentally ill do not make campaign contributions or send lobbyists to Olympia.

When the economy tanks, social problems get bigger while the funds available to deal with them get scarcer. That’s understood; the Legislature will have to find savings right and left in the months ahead. But its budget writers must let their consciences rule their decisions.

It’s a matter of not dumping high costs on hospital emergency rooms, community mental health clinics, law enforcement agencies, jails, courts, families and the general public.

Mostly, though, it’s a matter of simple humanity.

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