Out of Sight – Out of Mind: Homelessness and Mental Health

There have been a number of tragedies stemming from the terrible death of David MacPherson in the fire at the unregulated group home last week. The tragedy that someone would run a home like this this is not be accredited; the tragedy that there are so many in London that need this assistance and have no where else to go; the tragedy of there being no way for these people who found each other to stay together; and the list goes on and on and on and on. But in all our hand wringing and calls for of blame and change we might want to take a minute and pause.

Already the blame is starting to roll out thick and fast, and in collective righteous indignation we will ask how could the fire department, mental health advocates, hospitals, police, city, government allow this to happen? We will insist that there needs to be an investigation and that there must be change! The public will demand that this never happen again! The public will want someone to pay for this tragedy! The public will want that someone to make sure that David MacPherson’s death was not in vain! The public will want some good to come from this! 

Also, quietly in the background, in meetings behind closed doors, the hospitals will be talking to community mental health agencies and asking them not to aggravate the situation , the LHIN will be asking the hospitals to keep things calm, the endless and unfeeling machinery of turf protection and blame dodging will continue unabated and the result will be exactly nothing.

But perhaps the public, you, me, us, might want to take a good long look in the mirror, and understand our culpability in this and thousands of other deaths like David’s. In the end, after all the finger pointing and indignant outrage by politicians and media, by well intentioned but completely uniformed community and media leaders, we can sit down and talk about the heart of this matter.

The fact is that this death, and thousands of other deaths, happen because we are too cheap to pay for services for someone like David MacPherson. An organization like People Helping People would never need to exist if we decided that it was important that people are not left homeless. Their leader, Mr. Charles, would never be needed if we thought that mental health services were important. The landlord would have already been charged and prosecuted if we thought it was important that the fire department had the heft it needed to charge him.But we’d rather low taxes and not to think about it to much.

We don’t care enough to fix the issues of homelessness, mental health and addictions in our city, province, or country. We are so much more concerned with watching politicians point fingers, talk show radio hosts offer overly simplistic one liners, and with hoping that it will all go away soon. And there is the nub of the issue friends. Really, we want it all to go away. We want the people on Dundas and Richmond and the people in Old East Village to be out of sight. Because if they’re out of sight then they’re out of mind and we don’t want to think about this anymore. Despite protestations to the contrary, we don’t want to pay for the care that will create a home so they can get the treatment that will stop a death like David MacPherson’s. We will feel bad, but in the end David’s death is the price of keeping taxes low and that’s too bad but that’s the way it is.

Some will say “but times are tough and we can’t afford great services” but this argument has a hollow ring to it. We’ve been cutting services for the last 20 years and the majority of that time the economy has been fine so it makes little sense. Some will say it’s the fault of the heartless conservatives or the spend and tax liberals but we put them there and they respond to what we want so that argument rings hollow as well so deaths happen and we look away.

This week we opened a really outstanding mental health hospital in London and that’s a good thing. It’s taken 23 years to build and because of that it has now cost $1 billion dollars, but I am glad it’s here. However, for $1 million dollars we could create more emergency shelter beds, for $7 million we could build some affordable housing, and for $20 million there would a lot fewer David MacPherson’s this year and next. This seems small next to $1 billion, But we won’t pay it because we have been sold the mantra that taxes are bad for more than 30 years and so there’ll be more David’s and more groups like People Helping People and more predatory landlords taking advantage and the end result will be more preventable deaths and more homelessness and more blame and…. well you get the idea.

Nothing will change and nothing good will come from David MacPherson’s death because we don’t care enough to pay the taxes to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s the truth. But don’t worry about it. Once the media storm passes things will go back to normal and then you won’t have to think about it. It will be out of sigh and out of mind.

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