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May 21, 2007 - 10:34 am

a href=”http://www.metropulse.com/articles/2007/17_20/coverstory.html”There is a good article /a this week in the emMetro Pulse/em, our weekly alternative newspaper here in Knoxville, on the plight of the homeless, 55 % of whom are mentally ill. The story discusses Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, a facility that has downsized from 2400 beds in 1970 to about 180 beds today. I had to laugh recently when I saw some administrator in a news interview talking aboutem all /emof the beds available here for the mentally ill in Knoxville after the Virginia Tech massacre. 180 beds? That’s nothing. What happened to the patients who were taking up the other 2220 beds in 1970? Did they all get better? No, in 2007, they and probably their descendents are being humanely discharged to the streets. br /br /Some of them end up at the Volunteer Ministry Center (VMC) here where they at least get shelter for the night but according to the executive director, Jenny Weatherstone, at VMC, the mentally ill need an atmosphere that is fairly structured and calm. “And that does not describe any shelter, including ours, nor does it describe life on the streets, yet that’s where so many people end up.” “Weatherstone remembers one lady who came into VMC. She sat in the waiting room, pulled her legs up to her chest, and gently rocked herself in the fetal position. She chanted as if it were a mantra, ‘I miss Lakeshore, I miss Lakeshore, I miss Lakeshore….’ Over and over and over.” br /br /So many civil libertarians want to believe that it is a good thing that patients were “humanely” dumped out of the mental hospitals to live “free” in the society. But I bet if you asked the woman above chanting her mantra, she might feel differently. I remember Lakeshore in the 1980′s when there were more beds than now; I volunteered several days a week on a woman’s ward after college and watched the medical personnel care for the patients with medical care, occupational therapy, exercise and nutritional meals. One woman I met there had lived most of her life in Lakeshore and felt that the facility was her home. I can’t see how the streets are better.br /br /The city of Knoxville now owns 60 acres of Lakeshore’s 300-acre farm, it is a public park with beautiful rock gardens and a walking trail. I always feel slightly gypped when I walk on the grounds there and notice that some of the buildings are sitting empty and others have been torn down. I think of all the patients I have seen over the course of my career that needed inpatient services that couldn’t get them or got them for too short of a time to be of any use, and I realize that deep down, I miss Lakeshore too.

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