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L.A. Should Become City of Sanctuary for Homeless

January 11, 1986

I've read with growing shame of the mentally ill street people of Los Angeles. Decades ago, with the discovery of psychotropic drugs, state facilities began releasing the indigent mentally ill with the understanding that local governments could and would care for them. Our society has miserably failed these people by the thousands.

Christmas Eve I spent some time with Marty, age 25, a street person. He's not alcoholic; he barely touched a glass of sherry.

Left to himself, his mind is a grotesque turmoil of witchcraft and often hostile "voices." Each time I took control of the conversation, he responded quite rationally for a minute or so, but soon drifted off. He said he is schizophrenic and even knows the name of the medication that helps him, but, living on the street, Marty just doesn't manage to get to a VA hospital.

Like thousands of others, Marty has fallen through the cracks of our society's mental health delivery system. Alone, he can't fend for himself. He seems to need a refuge, a sanctuary: shelter, food and a caring human voice to encourage and remind him: "Today you have an appointment at the VA hospital . . . here's bus fare."

He does stink, but distracted from his "voices," Marty can be charming--warm, gentle eyes, a shy, engaging smile and even dreams. One of them is a truck, some hand tools and the dignity of work. But, to have any chance of realizing this dream, Marty, I feel, needs sanctuary.

Last fall, sanctuary became a ringing, clarion word in Los Angeles and the nation in a symbolically different context. I feel it's time for Los Angeles to have compassion and become the nation's first Sanctuary City for the homeless. They are already among us.


Eagle Rock

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