What trait did actor/comedian Robin Williams and many of New Orleans homeless share? Mental illness. Like a majority of the homeless in New Orleans, Williams battled periodic bouts of substance abuse and depression until he finally “silenced the demons that relentlessly targeted him” earlier this week, as the Associate Press put it.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the rate of mental illness increases as boomers age. According to the Center for Disease Control, the suicide rate for adults - aged 45 to 64 – increased 40% from 1999 to 2011. An analysis by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that the suicide rate for middle- to late-middle-aged adults is higher than any other age group.
Mayor Landrieu’s decision this week to close down the homeless encampment under the Pontchartrain Expressway due to “health issues” is both necessary and needed, but not well-planned. We must paraphrase what Hillary Clinton said in The Atlantic about Barack Obama’s foreign policy — “Great nations need organizing principals. ” We say “Great cities need effective policies to address the needs of the mentally ill.”
Without a solid plan in place to address the mental health and substance abuse issues of this target population, Unity for the Homeless and its dozens of partnering agencies will have limited long-term success. They might clean out the place before the Saints game, but some folks will try to come back or start a new camp somewhere else.
We have seen it all. Our office in the CBD is only two blocks from the encampment. We are also very familiar with the New Orleans Mission and its outstanding faith-based rehabilitation program as well as the Ozanam Inn, the Salvation Army, and so forth. Not every homeless person is a good candidate for the 12-month disciple program that the Mission operates with 90 participants at this time.
Let’s face it – many homeless need a much higher level of mental health care that is just not available in New Orleans. Currently homeless who are picked up by the police are taken to the troubled Orleans Parish Jail, where who-knows-what might happen to them. New Orleans hospitals must open more mental health beds.
If Sheriff Gusman is allowed to build a “third phase” health care facility, it could well become the largest psychiatric “hospital” in Louisiana. Because it will not be a real hospital, the standards and treatment protocol could sometimes lack integrity, just like the rest of the jail. It would be most beneficial for the patients that such a facility is attached to one of the accredited hospitals that are mushrooming in close proximity of the jail complex.
Long-term, Mayor Landrieu should lease the property under the Pontchatrain Expressway from the state, fence it off, and charge people to park there. With the continued growth downtown, there will always be a need for more parking, especially for special events like Mardi Gras and Saints games.
We are also pleased that Mayor Landrieu met with NYC Mayor DeBlasio and other mayors recently to discuss income inequity. While the Mayor is on record supporting an increase in the minimum wage, his energy would be better spent working with the business community and educational institutions to create training programs to meet future employer need. A person who is gainfully employed is much less likely to shoot a child in Central City or the Ninth Ward than one who is dealing drugs for a living.
WILL MARY LANDRIEU COZY UP TO SARAH PALIN?
A week doesn’t pass without us hearing about another fundraiser for Mary Landrieu, whether it is at a private home, this Saturday at NOLA Brewery, or a statewide series of women’s events that former New Orleans City Councilmember Kristin Palmer is coordinating.
The best idea we heard this week is that Mary should cozy up to Sarah Palin who successfully passed steep and progressive taxes on the biggest of Alaska’s oil producers. Alaska will collect $4.3 Billion in oil-tax revenues in 2014, down from $6.3 Billion in 2013. What could Louisiana do with an extra $4.3 Billion, even if for only one year? Though Palin is not well-loved in Alaska at this time, she still has plenty of clout in Washington where Mary could use her help.
VOTING RIGHTS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOLANDA KING
Mayor Landrieu is doing everything he thinks he can to eliminate two of the Juvenile Court seats in an effort to save money. We like our mayor saving money, but we don’t like him trampling on voting rights. We predict the law to eliminate the two seats is too vague, will not survive a court challenge, and that an election will be held for King’s Juvenile Court seat. Then the voters will have the opportunity to vote down the judge who was not smart enough to claim the homestead exemption in Orleans Parish only. It’s OK to have two residences, but you can only legally claim the exemption in the parish which you want to represent.
Qualifying for more than 40 seats begins next Wednesday and ends Friday. There are seven fundraisers tonight alone from Congressman Cedric Richmond and Criminal Court Judges Laurie White and Tracey F. Davillier to Civil Court Judge Paulette Irons, Constable Lambert Boissiere Jr. and Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell. How many fundraisers can a political junkie attend in one night?
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.