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Monday, December 09, 2019

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A lot of smart voices seem afraid to say outright that homeless mentally ill people should be taken off the streets, forcibly if necessary. They may easily agree that the sad humans sleeping on grates and under bridges would benefit from coming indoors for medical care and other social services. But they can't concede that the public's right to use sidewalks, parks and train stations should trump a homeless person's desire to take over those spaces.

Thus, this headline in the Harvard Gazette: "N.Y. plan to involuntarily treat mentally ill homeless? Not entirely outrageous."

The piece mostly defended New York Mayor Eric Adams' plan to hospitalize mentally ill people without their consent, but the "not entirely outrageous" was wrongly apologetic. There is nothing "outrageous" about stopping people living in filth, hollering into the night and sometimes attacking bystanders from, in effect, denying others access to public amenities.

This is a good opportunity to revisit the views of economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who wrote in the 1950s about "private affluence and public squalor" in our cities and towns. He was referring to the size and comforts of American homes versus the shabbiness of our shared streets with their poor lighting and trash all around. In cities like Paris, he said, the opposite was the case. There, apartments were tiny and lacking modern appliances, but the world outside was well kept.

Galbraith was a liberal and meant "private affluence and public squalor" to reflect the ability of our rich to better limit their exposure to the broken-down public sphere. And so there is great irony in self-described progressives' insistence that the squalor of homeless encampments is acceptable in the name of affording dignity to the poor.

Some have sued the city making mostly specious arguments. New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, for example, holds that the program puts people at risk for being detained "for merely living with their illness while in a public place."

The lawsuit further complains that they could be forcibly hospitalized "solely because an NYPD officer perceives them to have a mental disability and nothing more."

But that's not how it works. When the police take someone who concerns them to a hospital, that individual then undergoes evaluation by mental health professionals. Anyone who has witnessed the growing number of disheveled souls screaming at passersby and sometimes slamming into them understands that the bar for involuntary detention is high.

And those who recall the horrifying incident in which a homeless man pushed a young woman to her death as a subway train approached would be at pains to downplay his level of insanity as a "mental disability."

Katherine Koh, a street psychiatrist in Boston, told the Gazette that the criteria for hospitalizing someone without consent are whether there is serious risk of self-harm or harm to others. A third, "inability to care for oneself to a degree that it puts the person at risk of serious harm," is less clear but an important consideration.

For a treatable population, she adds, expanding community-based mental health services and supportive housing would be the preferred outcome to long-term hospitalization. If more staff and facilities are needed, the public has a duty to build them. But the public won't have the money to build them if the homeless crisis frightens away enough business to badly hurt the local economy.

In the end, citizens should have the right to enter a subway without having to step around cardboard boxes turned into shelters. And recognize that those who can afford the private affluence of taxis don't have to endure the public squalor of the others who have to walk through it. Where is the justice there?

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

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Immigrants crossing from Mexico into the United States

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America needs more immigrants, but we seem determined to shoot ourselves in the foot. Before addressing that self-sabotage, permit a small digression.

In the 1980s, Venezuela was the wealthiest country in Latin America. Sitting on about 18 percent of the world's proven oil reserves, Venezuelans enjoyed higher living standards than their neighbors and seemed to have a stable democracy. Looks were deceiving. When the price of oil plummeted in the 1990s, the country was plunged into instability. In 1999, they elected a charismatic military officer, Hugo Chavez, who promised to redistribute the nation's wealth and proceeded to befriend Fidel Castro and destroy the nation's economy. He nationalized companies and farms, crushed labor unions, put opponents in prison and seized the assets of foreign oil contractors.

Chavez succumbed to cancer in 2013, but by then Venezuela was a basket case. Today, one in three Venezuelans doesn't get enough to eat, malnutrition among poor children is rife, and more than 75 percent of Venezuelans live in extreme poverty. It is the most abrupt collapse of a thriving nation not at war on record, and a cautionary tale about what can happen when people make bad political choices.

Most of the 50 immigrants Gov. Ron DeSantis dropped on Martha's Vineyard were Venezuelans who had made an arduous 2,000-mile journey. "No one leaves home," wrote poet Warsan Shire, "unless home is the mouth of a shark."

Many on the right portray illegal immigrants as criminals who are "breaking into our house" and deserve to be treated as such. Under U.S. statutes, if a migrant comes into this country, turns himself in to a border guard or other authority and asks for political asylum, he is entitled to a hearing. Asylum seekers are not "illegal" immigrants.

DeSantis didn't see suffering human beings. He saw props. He saw Fox News coverage. (Fox, unlike the governor of Massachusetts, was tipped off in advance.) And he saw the chance to show the GOP base what a jerk he could be.

The DeSantis justifiers object that border states are being flooded with illegals and that it's unjust that red states are bearing all of the burden. But the border states are not handling it alone. The federal government has spent roughly $333 billion on border security and immigration enforcement in the past 19 years, with much of it targeted on the southern border.

As for the burden of immigration, it's debatable that immigrants represent a burden at all. Many studies show that they pay more in taxes than they cost in social services and they are more likely to work, start business and seek patents than the native-born (and less likely to commit crimes).

Those who believe the propaganda that immigration is destroying America should ponder our neighbor to the north. Is Canada a hellscape? The proportion of foreign-born there is 21 percent compared to the American average of 13.7 percent.

In truth, the vast majority of would-be immigrants have done absolutely nothing wrong. It is our own laws that are the problem. We desperately need workers, yet the wait for legal immigration options is years long. People ask, "Why can't illegal immigrants wait in line?"

But there is no line. We resolutely decline to accept guest workers in large numbers, who could fill jobs and return home (without affecting voting patterns, by the way). And so the only way to gain entry is to put feet on American soil and ask for asylum.

Clearly, not all of those pleading for asylum meet the criteria (a well-founded fear of persecution), but the system is short of courts and judges and wait times for hearings are very long. Some never show up for their hearings. And so the word has gone out around the world that if you can manage to get to the United States and present yourself to a border guard, you have at least a shot of remaining in the country either because your asylum claim will be granted or you will melt into the country and avoid deportation.

We are fortunate that so many hardworking people want to come here. If we had our act together, we would reform our laws to take many more legal immigrants (who would begin the application process in their home countries) and hire more immigration judges to hear asylum claims while clarifying that only severe cases will be eligible for that status (not economic migrants). We are an aging population with a declining birth rate. Our national spirit needs the infusion of energy and dynamism that immigrants provide. And we will be thanked and strengthened by people whose lives we save.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Reprinted with permission from Creators.