Culture At Large

Grim anniversary for the homeless

Andy Rau

The Cranach blog notes that yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the Lessard v. Schmidt Supreme Court case. Poster Veith links to a sobering article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describing the unanticipated results of the decision. In the case, Cranach summarizes, the Supreme Court ruled that

...mentally handicapped individuals who were not dangerous could not be held against their will in mental hospitals. So those hospitals emptied, then closed, sending untold numbers of mentally handicapped folks onto the street. In many cases, there was no place else for them to go, which was the beginning of our homeless problem.

The original intent was to avoid keeping the mentally handicapped in hospitals against their will, and to transfer the responsibility for helping them over to the broader community... but that seems to have been an overly optimistic goal. From the Journal Sentinel piece:

But when social engineers pushed the idea of closing mental hospitals and delivering health care in the community, they overlooked a critical element: Where would these people live? Who would take care of those who could not take care of themselves?

Cranach wonders if the church should have, or can, help out with this situation, and that's a good question. The piece linked above doesn't go into details about how local churches did or didn't step forward to respond to the challenge--but whatever the response was, it's clear that more needs to be done. The church seems like a natural candidate to help out, but I'm guessing that our current societal nervousness about church-and-state relations makes the situation more complex than it seems at first glance.

What about your church? Has your church been around long enough to witness the Lessard v. Schmidt case and its results, if any, on your community over the last three decades? Is there anything specific that local church can do to help, or has the problem become too severe for churches and private citizens to deal with?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, News & Politics, Social Trends