Madness on Portland’s streets

How does a community measure the success of a mental health system? Is it a number of clients seen, a number of pills dispensed? Or is it a sense when walking through downtown the number of insane people is lower than the number of tourists?

A sunny day, streets filled with shoppers, up and down I counted over one hundred people in distress. Drunk, loaded, deranged, psychotic, self-abusive – all clearly a danger to themselves and unable to care for themselves because of their mental illness. Almost two years after Mayor Potter’s Public Safety and Mental Health Task Force, there is still no day center, still an insufficient amount of intervention, still no solution.

The Hudnall brothers were in full volume, shrieking up and down the block, full regalia with posse attending. As young teens in the mid-eighties the twins from Albany turned tricks to buy lottery tickets. Now after twenty years of addiction and jails they still dress like children, but are well known to every cop at the bureau as menaces.

This poor devil below has been wandering the bus mall for over a year. He eats and drinks from garbage cans. His madness causes others to avert their eyes, to pretend he does not exist.

Below, Larry Broomnal’s endurance is amazing. He’s psychotic for the most part of the past 15 years, wandering the streets, disheveled, filthy, carrying his sleeping bag, muttering to the voices in his head.

Larry Broomnal

Larry Broomnal

How we choose to care for others is the measure of our society. Portland – liberal, affluent, influential, articulate – could, if it chose to, do something. Do something compassionate, something forthright, something preventative. Ask the skilled social worker; they’ll tell you yes, there are many successful methods for helping. Are they expensive to provide? No. Are they important to our political leaders? No.

The quality of life for these people is the measure of a mental health system. Their lives are horrible and their ongoing misery is entirely avoidable. But a choice has been made – and their lot in life is to suffer.