There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Friday, September 21, 2007

Transit mental health

Looking at the guy beside the bus stop shelter across from the 65th Street light rail station I couldn't shake the image of Woody Allen in his younger years. The guy was the same slight build, a mousy little man.

He was far enough away that I couldn't make out more than his general appearance. He wore jeans and a white shirt with writing in red across the shoulders and in the middle of the back. He wore thick glasses and a blue ball cap pulled down. His clothes looked freshly laundered.

The guy would have been completely unremarkable except for the way he shook both hands above his head with middle fingers extended while screaming profanities at the sidewalk in front of him. Occasionally, he would pause and look up as if to see if anyone noticed, and then he would continue. When he finally became exhausted by his exertion he lowered his arms and leaned against the side of the bus shelter. But then he turned and banged his fists on the glass wall of the shelter with enough force to shake the structure.

I was happy to be too far away to discern more than the general tenor of his complaint. A couple of women were sitting in the bus shelter, unmoved. A man walked to the other side of the bus stop and away from the guy, shaking his head. A few people at the light rail station with me watched.

The cycle of screaming, exhaustion, pounding, screaming, exhaustion, pounding continued until my train arrived. As I left for downtown, the man was still at the bus stop waiting for Sacramento Regional Transit to pick him up.


qofd said...

Did he have a young Asian woman attached to his hip? If so, he may very well have been Woody Allen.

Actually, I hate seeing homeless folks in that kind of mental state. I just feel for them.

John said...

People talk and talk about the health care crisis. The real crisis is the lack of mental health care for people like this. We've turned our jails and prisons into mental health care warehouses.

ByJane said...

thank lanterman-short & bleeding heart liberals for this: turning the mentally ill out on the street where they are responsible for their own meds (ha!). The alternative I realize is not appealing either--the snake pits that l-s meant to do away with. But you can't legislate ethics and morality. Schizophrenics can live productive lives--some of them--if they stay on their meds, which they don't want to because...well, for all sorts of reasons. What's the answer here? Not more legislation.

John said...

The state decision that community care was better than institutional care has been a farce not because of bleeding hearts but because of an unwillingness of the state to pay for the required level of community care. Without funding we get the worst possible situation -- mentally ill on the streets or, just as bad, incarcerated.

wburg said...

Vocational training and an adequate level of services, rather than continued overmedication and warehousing in board & care facilities instead of hospitals, worked effectively when states like Maine closed most of their state hospitals: former residents were far less likely to need public aid, far more likely to be working and independent, and even used less psych meds than formerly hospitalized folks on the west coast. As john says, much of California's failure in this arena was due to unkept promises about support after the hospitals closed.

Of course, the population we're dealing with now wasn't even born when Reagan closed the state hositals (for fiscal reasons, not bleeding-heart ones) so it's kind of a different ball game. Expect a lot of Iraq war veterans on the street in the next decade, though.

John said...

One point to add about this post: Before I wrote it, I asked Regional Transit what drivers are supposed to do in situations like this. I also requested the police response with a post at SacPD's blog.

Here's RT's response: "Mr. Hughes, all operators are responsible for reporting any accident, incident or unusual occurrence during the course of his/her assignment to radio dispatch. The man with the mental illness should have been reported."

For the record, I don't know whether he was or wasn't reported by the driver on a break nearby.

I asked a former bus driver about the incident and got this response:

"I am certain that RT has an 'official' policy on what steps are to be taken when a situation such as this arises. I remember when I was a bus driver, if I called in something like that, the first question from the radio controller was if this person was on RT property. More often they are, and the radio controller would ask for a description and send a supervisor out. So they say they will, but I don't think one ever showed up.

"I'll frame it to you this way: They want the bus/train to keep moving. I have had people come up and ask me to call medical help and the radio controller instructed me to have the person walk to the pay phone in the station and call 911 but I was to continue en route."

Assuming we are not talking life-and-death emergency, I don't have a problem with RT focusing on keeping the buses and trains moving.

I'm still waiting for a response from the police.