Our Forgotten Infrastructure

Guest Post by Michael Chambers
In May, I attended the commencement ceremonies at the Massachusetts School for Professional Psychology. The keynote speaker was David Satcher, the Surgeon General of the United States in the George W. Bush Administration. Dr. Satcher has a long distinguished career as a medical administrator devoted to public health and mental health, bioterrorism, sex education, AIDS, suicide, cloning, and achieving a balanced community healthcare system.

In his keynote address, Dr. Satcher specifically emphasized the need for a better national mental health program, based on intensive education and more and improved health care facilities. I recall when I lived in the Greater Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area that St. Elizabeth’s Hospital became the target of the Office of Management and Budget’s spending reduction program. Almost overnight the doorways and walkways, steam grates, and public areas became homes, or at least sleeping quarters, for all those disposed patients who so drastically needed mental health care. These people on the streets were not dangerous or unstable but had some emotional, learning, or chronic disability that made it difficult to care for themselves 100% of the time. My children would share their lunch with the nearest homeless person that they saw, especially near the Department of the Interior Building.

I don’t know how long it takes for homeless people to become street wise or street smart, but it wasn’t long before their mental health deteriorated while they survived the streets. After retirement I forgot about the plight of the street people when I moved to Rhode Island. This State is what Washington D.C. wishes it were in the face of street people. We don’t see such numbers and densities of homeless in R.I.; they are “out of sight”, and that is what D.C. wanted, especially near the Mall area, out of sight homeless individuals. Dr. Satcher’s message jolted me back to the D.C. scene.

Whenever someone asks what we should spend tax dollars on, my answer will not be to acquire something new, but to deal with what were already have. Embedded within the top ten preferences will be reconstruction of the Nation’s infrastructure and caring for those among us with mental and emotional problems.