An Excerpt from Crossing Main by T J Therien

They closed down the Asylum on the outskirts of town a few years back. Would you believe they just released the patients? Just like that, people who had been institutionalized for large chunks of their lives were rubberstamped “Sane” and turned out onto the streets. It’s not like they had been cured, or anything, far from it. In fact, all their phobias and neurosis remained intact. In some cases their “Isms” were exasperated by the sudden change in their environment. For the most part, the former patients were not equipped with the skills they needed to survive in the real world. As a result most took to wandering the streets by day and sleeping on benches or in back alleys at night.

Being adjacent to the Madhouse, our sleepy little town felt the brunt when it was shut down. We were close enough in proximity that our town became a magnet for the former patients. The “Crazies,” as the townsfolk affectionately called them although some of the more eccentric earned their own little monikers like “Odd Todd” and “Slow Joe.” Really, for the most part they were harmless enough and posed no real danger. Still, nobody knew what to do about the problem. At first, police would round them up, but because they didn’t belong in jail and because there was nowhere else to keep them, once again they were just released. Homelessness became epidemic. Sure, we always had a couple of drunks and ne’er do wells, but nothing like after they closed the Mental Hospital.

So much like other callous cost cutting measures that fray the fabric of society, the powers that be gave little thought to the consequences of fiscal austerity. This should surprise nobody. Empathy and compassion are traits possessed by too few politicians and government workers. Common sense and good conscience are seldom criteria for policy, nor are they qualifiers in the decision making process. Shutting down the Mental Hospital was just a classic case of saving a few nickels and dimes at the expense of our humanity. It’s all about dollars, not sense.

Residents petitioned the politicians, first at the local level, then to the State and lastly to the Fed. Each in turn passed the buck to the next until it circled around to the first and the process began all over again. In the end nothing was done. The townsfolk gradually accepted the quirky ensemble of former patients squatting in the streets.

The good folk of our town did what good folk do, short of taking the former patients into their own homes. They did no more than they did for the drunkards and ne’er do wells. Good folk are almost always long on good intentions, but when it comes down to it, they don’t really want to get their hands dirty and people are messy, especially the mentally ill. So it fell to charity to care for these poor people and we all know the result that reaps. Instead of putting money directly to solutions Charities buy band aids with the money that’s left over after the marketing campaigns and salaries are paid. Like really, has any Charity ever cured any social ail? And so the problem persisted.

This is why no one took notice of the shabby man shuffling down the main drag with an old apple-crate tucked under his arm. Such sights had become so common-place in our sleepy little town that nobody discerned anything different from the shabby stranger and the other “Crazies.” He was just another invisible man, a stench that people sidestep to avoid the smell sticking to them. Those who did see him shot him looks of derision as he waded through the pedestrian traffic at the busiest time of the day.

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The Chicken or the Egg

“What came first, the chicken or the egg,”
The mental illness or the homelessness?

Tell me, how many sane people
Have wound up on the streets,
Through no fault of their own,
Only to be driven mad by
Loss of dignity and looks of derision,
Sleep deprivation and hunger,
By nights below freezing,
By the drip, drip, drip of rain on the forehead,

You want to talk waterboarding?
Spare me your false outrage
When you speak about torture,
When Gitmo and Abu Ghraib
Look like the Park Plaza
To the guy shivering and starving on the corner

There’s a War going on alright
And Humanity is losing the fight

You know I’m beginning to think
It would be more humane to
Euthanize those that fall on misfortune
Than subject them to the cruel and unusual punishment
They are forced to endure at the hands of our apathy

Just remember my friend, you are one misstep,
One set of circumstance,
One twist of fate away
From joining those you sneer at and spit upon

Nobody choses to be homeless!

T J Therien