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Black Community Opinions

Help For The Homeless and Mentally Ill

By Shedrick Byrd

Almost every time I leave home I see a homeless or mentally ill person displaying abnormal behaviors. They are on street corners, under overpasses, or at traffic intersections asking for help or doing what society considers abnormal actions. Just the other day a man was in the middle of the street with his walking cane, obstructing traffic by just standing there doing nothing, not moving. I drove a few blocks farther and there was a young man at a non-busy street corner imitating the behavior of directing auto traffic. Many of these people are veterans who served in the Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq or Afghanistan conflict. When I see this I say “Our country can do better to take care of these people.” It seems this problem is so wide spread throughout the country until it’s becoming an epidemic.

We are a nation that brags “we take care of our own.” That motto seems to be going by the wayside if the examples I shared are not being addressed. Our politicians talk about the love for, and understanding of the needs of all people especially veterans. I am here to say they are not doing a good job. According to some information, I gathered there are 24 homeless shelters in Norfolk. Statistics reported by the National Alliance to End Homelessness indicated that in 2008 there was an estimate of 502 homeless people in Norfolk. I imagine that number has greatly increased since then.

There are three facilities for mentally ill persons in Norfolk. Veterans also have access to the Veterans Hospital in Hampton. It has been known that when some mentally ill persons go into a state of depression they may become physically harmful to themselves and/or to others. Lately in Norfolk several people who were said to be mentally ill have been shot and killed, or beaten by police. Had the police known their condition or if these people had been in a rehabilitation program, those killings or beatings may never have happened.

Let’s get our homeless and/or mentally ill people off the streets and into facilities where they can be treated and made whole again. In Norfolk it seems that mentally ill and homeless people walk the streets with nowhere to go and with little or no knowledge that treatment facilities are available to help them. Homeless shelters and treatment centers in Norfolk should intensify their efforts to assist the homeless and mentally ill by guiding them to shelters and centers for treatment. These statistics on Norfolk may serve as an example of the need for services throughout Hampton Roads and the nation as well.

Many of our elected officials are lawyers or professionals who grew up privileged. Some have never served in the military and don’t have a clue or an understanding of what’s going on with people who are suffering under these conditions. If they knew they may be more concerned about making policies to protect and provide support to deal with these conditions that will soon become an epidemic. To get off the hook the first thing said is there is no money in the budget to provide care for the homeless or mentally ill. So the beat goes on!
Shedrick Byrd is a frequent contributor to the New Journal and Guide.

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