The Homeless in New Orleans
Unfortunately, it is difficult to drive through any of our major cities and not see the sad and gloomy faces of the homeless, those that have no place to call home. New Orleans is no different.
Our area currently has only 440 mental health beds for Medicaid-funded patients. I suspect that this is hardly enough to fully address the situation. According to those who study the problem, the majority of chronically homeless people suffer from some form of mental illness. And yet, delivery of the psychiatric services needed in our metro area has been drastically reduced by Hurricane Katrina. Before the storm there were 487 beds available. But there is more…
Of the 440 beds available for the Homeless, 160 are in Orleans Parish, 150 are in Jefferson Parish and 130 are in St. Tammany Parish. Katrina of course closed Charity Hospital. New Orleans was highly dependent on said institution to provide medical and mental health care to the needy and homeless people of New Orleans. Charity was also an outstanding trauma center for our area. Our city lost 132 adult and adolescent psychiatric inpatient beds between the closure of Charity Hospital and the relocation of New Orleans Adolescent Hospital to the North Shore. As a result, a lot of mentally ill individuals end up at Orleans Parish Prison instead of at a hospital.
We have brought attention to this problem before. A jail is not an alternative to proper mental health care for the citizens of a great American City.
As long as budgets get slashed at the point of care and medical assistance for the poor and the mentally ill, we will continue to suffer the effects of homelessness and the problem of jails stacked with the mentally ill.
Surely this great society can find another way. People living under squalid conditions underneath a major highway should be simply unacceptable to us all. Thankfully we don’t see children living under these conditions although I am sure they are suffering just as much if the parents are unable to care for them properly. You cannot help but be struck by the ravages of inclement weather and lack of comfort in the faces of the homeless standing at the corner begging for a helping hand. I suspect that under normal conditions, anyone of them would prefer a job, a family and a warm bed. I will never accept what you often hear, that a homeless person is where he wants to be. Rubbish! It might be where he wants to be due to circumstances or due to mental imbalance, but living on the streets is not anyone´s first choice. Of that I am sure!
I am Attorney Martin E. Regan, Jr. and these are my personal thoughts…