Human Dignity

Last weekend Lifeline Animal shelter held a “Game of Homes” promotion.  Adoption fees were waived for families.  My middle schooler wants a dog.  We used the opportunity to visit three of the four adoption locations during the week-long promotion.  The third and final stop was the new Dekalb County Animal Shelter.  This place looked like a high-end day care!  If it were not for the unavoidable animal scent and rows and rows of pins holding more than four hundred animals, this place could rival any senior or community center in the metro Atlanta area.  We did not adopt but we strongly considered a cute dog named Paco.  An all-black, short legged, big headed mix between what looked like a Lab and Bassett Hound.

The next morning, I assisted a local prosecutor with a bond for a mentally ill and homeless couple arrested for criminal trespass. To the credit of law enforcement this couple had been previously asked to vacate the location without arrest.  Unfortunately, without a place to go they returned, and the neighbors and property managers contacted the police because … that is how you handle a person trespassing on property you are attempting to lease. 

The prosecutor lamented because she had no options.  She had no resources. She did not even have a reliable place, half as nice as the Dekalb County animal shelter, to send these two.  The two defendants’ primary concern was if they would get a chance to eat and if they could get back the blankets and bedding they left in the home in case they had to sleep on the street.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we treated our mentally ill and homeless population as well as we treat our animals in Georgia?

Had this couple been a basset hound and black lab they could have been dropped off at this government run center and the people inside would have figured out what was needed.  They would get a personal place to lay, food, water, and medical treatment if necessary. For humans it not as simple.  There are some resources but there are time, location, age, and other specifics that make finding assistance a full-time career a.k.a. social workers. 

Had this couple been a basset hound and black lab they could have been dropped off at this government run center and the people inside would have figured out what was needed. 

The point is NOT that we treat animals better than we treat humans.  That bar is far too low.  The question I have is can we make a sincere effort to treat humans MINIMALLY as well as we treat our beloved four-legged friends.  The families of murder victims and Michael Vick coincidentally have the exact same question.  

Luckily, this legislative session State Representative Kevin Tanner passed HB514 which created a Georgia Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission.  The individuals appointed to this commission have the difficult duty of coming up with long-term solutions for Georgians with mental health issues before 2023.

I hope that there is a day that prosecutors can give a signature bond for homeless mental health individuals into a facility as nice as the Dekalb Animal Shelter.  I pray for a day that law enforcement can simply call a number and have someone who needs help picked up from the precinct.  A place that without condition, a person without a place to stay can go to get blankets.  A place where our people with limited mental capabilities can get services that keep them off the street completely.  I’m too young to remember what happened with our state-run mental health facilities – but can we revisit the idea in a way that protects human dignity?

This session our General Assembly spent lots of time debating humans and what should happen before they are conceived.  Although HB514 sounds promising, HB178 which provided for outpatient treatment programs for those with mental health was not even heard.  Chairwoman Sharon Cooper did not give them a hearing in the Health and Human Services committee. Coincidentally, the legislation to create coverage for obesity related conditions, HB187, made it through the Health and Human Services committee and is sitting on the Governor’s desk for signature. #Priorities

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