Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Speak Up!

Yesterday I had to write an email to the gentleman who wrote complaining about the woman in his neighbourhood who is causing such distress. He wants her to go to jail. It's the only way the criminal activity can be stopped.

Drug dealers are criminals, I wrote back. This woman has mental health issues. The combination of her 'at risk lifestyle' and an absence of treatment are motivating her to act criminally. Help us identify her so we can work with the police and other agencies to find her the help she needs.

And there in lies the rub. Given enough evidence of social disturbance kinds of behaviour, she can be remanded to a psych ward without needing her consent -- for awhile. Not long. As soon as she shows some compliance she can insist on being released. Two days. Three. Maybe a couple of weeks. Max a month. And then? Back to the street? Back to the lifestyle that is causing such distress?

We can put a man on the moon. Find a way to extract oil from sand. Build crafts that explore the bottom of the ocean. But we can't find a way to keep a woman with mental health issues safe.

I understand this man's frustration and fear -- he has a woman in his neighbourhood acting out, threatening residents, flashing her body.

I don't understand our inability to take action.

Social justice signifies finding a way to treat everyone equally. It means recognizing that in our society there are those who cannot help themselves without a lot of help from us.

This woman and the countless others who crowd our shelter need our help. Over 40% of the 8500 people who move through our shelter annually have mental health issues. These issues are exacerbated by streetlife and the at risk lifestyles they engage in such as not using appropriate drugs and instead relying on illicit drugs to help them cope.

As a society I don't believe it's acceptable to leave these individuals to fend for themselves on the street, or to incarcerate them in prisons. It just doesn't work for anyone. It doesn't create a more caring society. Safer communities. It has the reverse affect -- it creates communities that are uncomfortable for everyone.

I asked this man yesterday to speak out. To write to his Member of the Legislature, to hound his community leaders to take action -- to right the wrongs of the past where the fallout from the closure of mental health beds has led to the social disorder on our streets.

I believe it is something we must all do. Speak out. Speak up. Speak for those who have lost their voice to the street.

And so, I'll now get off my soapbox and get to work!

The question is: Where do you stay silent in the face of injustice? Where do you hold the victim accountable when the victim does not have the capacity to change their situation without your help?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i disagree with your focus - the most effective way your organization can help is to have your clients (like the woman you write about) advocate for themselves; coach them to write the letter to an MLA, coach them to do an interview on radio, TV or for print, coach them to write the op-ed piece; in terms of keeping them safe, maybe asking them what will help them most, then help them ask repeatedly of 3 levels of government for help - using whatever tools are available - print, protest, letter writing or inviting those MLA's for coffee on the pathway under the bridge . . bring Mohammed to the mountain as it were; an angry constituant writing or calling an MLA is most likely to produce nothing or, if it does, it will produce a call to the Poice Chief to step up enforcement against street people rather than FOR them
my $0.02,