Letters

Autumn 1997
Housing, Housing, Housing

To the editor:
While Sol Stern’s "Who Says the Homeless Should Work?" (Summer 1997) extols the virtues of the Doe Fund’s shelter, it ignores the fact that there would be no government funding for the program, and thus no Doe Fund shelter, in the absence of court orders in Callahan and related litigation. As the article points out, even now, with court orders requiring the provision of shelter in place, the city administration has reduced funding for alternative shelter—for example, allocating the Doe Fund only $13,000 per shelter bed when the city would pay itself $20,000 for the same bed.

The 1992 New York City Com-mission on the Homeless, whose work the article cites with approval, concluded that transitional housing (like the Doe Fund’s shelter) only works if there is a place into which people can make a transition. Continued attempts to "prove" that lack of housing is not a cause of homelessness fly in the face of reality. Clearly, lack of affordable housing and lack of income to obtain and retain permanent housing result in homeless men, women, and children in this city.

Finally, Doe Fund shelter residents who have complained about the program have no objection whatsoever to working; their complaint is simply that they should not be required to pay $65 per week from their wages for a shelter cot for which the city should provide the Doe Fund with full funding. Instead, Doe residents argue that this $65 per week should be put in a savings account to enable them to get out of the shelter and into permanent housing more quickly. This is not a matter of ideology but simply a matter of common sense practicality.

Steven Banks
Coordinating Attorney
Homeless Rights Project Counsel
Coalition for the Homeless
New York, N.Y.

Sol Stern responds:
Steven Banks and the Coalition for the Homeless can’t abide any homeless initiative—like George MacDonald’s Doe Fund—that is based on the healing power of work and personal responsibility. That’s because the success of such programs gives the lie to the claim, made repeatedly over the past two decades by Banks and his colleagues, that homelessness can’t possibly be ameliorated until New York City is transformed into a socialist utopia providing subsidized housing for anyone purporting to be in need. Nothing in my article illuminates the utter bankruptcy of this old-guard advocates’ approach as much as Banks’s own letter. May it be widely circulated.
 

Tenor of the Times

To the editor:
I enjoyed David Brooks’s hist-ory of marriage announcements in the New York Times ("New-Class Nuptials," Summer 1997). I was surprised, however, that Mr. Brooks didn’t comment on something that frequently jumps out at me as I glance through the Sunday paper. In the "Vows" section, we are told—frequently—that the happy couple lived together prior to the marriage, something that would have been unthinkable to find in a marriage announcement just a few years ago.

For instance, on August 19, 1997, the Times featured the marriage of two 50-year-olds, Elaine Winter and Nick O’Han. The bride, a "lower-school principal of the Little Red School House and Elizabeth Irwin High School in Greenwich Village," and the groom, "a former headmaster of the Rockland Country Day School in Congers, N.Y.," were not embarrassed to tell the reporter, nor she to report to her readers, that the couple traveled together to Florida "last spring," and upon their return to the city, immediately moved in together, carrying chairs and lamps through the Village from her house to his.

That two middle-aged pillars of the educational establishment have no hesitation in presenting themselves as giddy teenage lovers is amusing, if ludicrous. It also tells us something about the tenor of the times that the paper chooses to highlight this aspect of their courtship.

Evelyn Majidi
Tarrytown, N.Y.
 

Mental Illness Follies

To the editor:
While I am grateful that my sister has not succeeded in killing anyone during her long years with paranoid schizophrenia, I wish that she could again be forced to receive the continuing medical treatment that Dr. E. Fuller Torrey proposes ("Let’s Stop Being Nutty About the Mentally Ill," Summer 1997). She has a long case history of impulsive, irrational behavior, even against those she loves the most. Her children almost died of dehydration because she bought rugs instead of paying her California water bill. Once, pushing a baby carriage, she tried to walk back to Pennsylvania in the middle of a four-lane freeway. But every family with a brain-sick member has a story to tell more ludicrous than any soap opera.

Looking back, she was happiest at the Mental Health/ Mental Retardation Center on Broad Street in North Philadelphia, where residents had freedom to come and go and only one rule: an unoccupied bed at night meant expulsion. A competent, caring, underpaid staff supervised her medication and provided meals, but also gave her the freedom to go across the street for french fries at Kentucky Fried Chicken or to take the subway downtown. Unfortunately, after 14 months of steady improvement she was deemed "stabilized," so caseworkers moved her to a personal care facility in Germantown, where she ran away several times. She eventually ended up homeless. This is her "choice," but it is a choice made by a diseased organ: her brain.

But my brain suffers, too. Whenever the media report the murder or drowning of a middle-aged homeless Caucasian woman with hazel eyes, I question whether to call the coroner. Although at first I didn’t intend to send you a case history of my sister, from experience perhaps I can speak for millions of family members who suffer from the stigma and the consequences of the exploits of a mentally ill loved one. At least ten family members are agonizing over the deeds of each mentally ill patient. Dr. Torrey cites 830,000 homeless mentally ill. Multiply that by ten, and that equals more than 8 million people in the United States who are begging for a sane solution to the problem of our abandoned mentally ill.

Our country rightly prizes freedom and rights and liberty, but we do properly limit personal freedom sometimes. Small children and adolescents, the extremely ill and elderly, do not have unabridged freedom. Just try getting a driver’s license when you’re 90.

Which comes first: the person or "rights"? Let the medical specialist treat the patient so that she can become truly free to participate in life.

If the civil libertarian champions of deinstitutionalization win, the incompetent patient loses, because the diseased brain cannot lead the sick person through the complexities of daily life any more than a blind person can see. I am writing this because it’s time to come out of the closet, to get the mentally ill homeless off the streets, so that pharmacology may help restore them to our families.

Mary Louise Till
Oxford, Pa.

Dr. Torrey responds:
Ms. Till reminds us that utilizing treatment, both inpatient and outpatient, is often necessary for mentally ill individuals like her sister, who have limited insight into their illness. We confuse the right to be well with the freedom to remain sick. She correctly notes that "every family with a brain-sick member has a story to tell more ludicrous than any soap opera." Isn’t it time to take this soap opera off the air?


Above Criticism?

To the editor:
It is indeed unfortunate that Peter Hellman in his article "Justice Freedman v. New York" (Spring 1997) did not choose to discuss the McCain case on a factual and legal basis. Instead, by innuendo and by disrespectful references to an intelligent and capable sitting jurist, his article exemplifies a form of journalistic irresponsibility that, sadly, is becoming the norm for too many publications.

As a women’s bar association, we strongly object to the sexist tone of Mr. Hellman’s references to Justice Freedman’s spouse and to the judge’s treatment of the plaintiff’s counsel.

As Mr. Hellman is very much aware, Justice Freedman’s rulings have been affirmed by the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals. Also, with the consent of both parties, she has used Special Masters in order to resolve many of the issues in McCain. As Mr. Hellman also is very much aware, when faced with any further adverse decisions in this case or in any other case before Justice Freedman, the City of New York has both legal and legislative remedies that may be pursued.

Finally, as Mr. Hellman also should be aware, ethical rules prevent judges from responding to challenges to their opinions. Therefore, the closing line of Mr. Hellman’s article—"Helen Freedman, please explain"—was totally inappropriate.

We hope that you will support the independence of the judiciary by refraining from such tactics in the future and, instead, discuss issues fairly in a way that is enlightening rather than misleading and inflammatory.

Gayle L. Eagan
President
Women’s Bar Association
New York, N.Y.

To the editor:
Peter Hellman’s article "Justice Freedman v. New York" is the kind of attack on judges that we believe not only unnecessarily demeans a first-class jurist but also poses a potential threat to the independence of the judiciary. References to Justice Freedman’s alleged bias, to her husband, and to her allegedly close relationship to plaintiff’s counsel are improper forms of criticism. If there is impropriety, it should be addressed as such. The article contains only innuendoes of impropriety, without any factual support. The article fails to state that all Justice Freedman’s rulings in the McCain case have been affirmed by appellate courts.

Finally, the illustrations accom-panying the article, in our view, constitute improper personal vilification of a judge. As bar associations and leaders of the legal community, we deplore journalistic attacks that threaten the independence of judges. All judges should be free to make discretionary decisions to apply the law as they see it, without fear of intemperate personal attack or vilification. Hellman’s article, in our view, goes beyond legitimate criticism of the substance of Justice Freedman’s decisions in the McCain case.

Klaus Eppler
New York County Lawyers’ Association
New York, N.Y.

And the following organizations approved this letter:
Brandeis Association, Inc., Brooklyn Bar Association, Eastchester Bar Association, Hispanic National Bar Associ-ation, Kings County Criminal Bar Association, Lawyers Torah Club, Legal Aid Society, Lesbian and Gay Law Associ-ation of Greater New York, Metropolitan Women’s Bar Association, Monroe County Bar Association, National Lawyers Guild (New York City Chapter), New York Council of Defense Lawyers, New York County Lawyers’ Association, New York Criminal Bar Association, New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, New York State Trial Lawyers Association, New York Women’s Bar Association, Protestant Lawyers Association of New York, Inc., Puerto Rican Bar Association, Kristin Booth Glen* (Dean, CUNY School of Law at Queens College), Howard A. Glickstein* (Dean, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, Touro College)

*Where an individual is listed, the organization has not agreed to join the committee.

Peter Hellman responds:
Attorneys Eagan and Eppler seem to believe that an independent judiciary means a judiciary exempt from criticism. They should re-read the First Amendment. Ms. Eagan compounds the travesty by implying that a female judge be particularly exempt from criticism.

Both Ms. Eagan and Mr. Eppler object to my revealing that Judge Freedman’s spouse is a leading light among welfare-rights professionals. The reader has every right to know this fact. I did not accuse the judge of impropriety. But as these writers know well, judges often disqualify themselves from presiding over cases in which even the appearance of a conflict of interest exists owing to the activities of a family member.

As for Mr. Eppler’s objection to the witty illustrations accompanying the article: he must wish he could ban every portrait of judges and lawyers done by the immortal Daumier.
 

Drug Wars, Part II

To the editor:
Theodore Dalrymple’s wonderful article in the Spring 1997 issue of City Journal ("Don’t Legalize Drugs") made clear that legalizing the sale and use of narcotics would have disastrous effects on crime, health, and the overall quality of life. Yet the article did not address another untoward consequence of drug legalization. The withdrawal of the state from one aspect of drug control would impose a special cost on children.

In the early 1980s, prior to the appearance of crack cocaine in New York, careful foster-care management by the city lowered the number of children in the foster-care system to about 15,000. But as the crack epidemic ravaged New York, the number of children in foster care spiraled upward until nearly 50,000 children were in the care of New York City’s Human Resources Administration.

Those who offer their theories of relief from the economic and social costs of drug abuse seem to forget the inevitable increase of children put "at risk." The more we increase the population of those "at risk," the more children we will inevitably move into an already-overburdened foster-care system.

But the destruction of families caused by the pushers of drug legalization will not end there. Virtually all plans for the legalization of narcotics provide for the government distribution of the drugs. But what should the government-licensed clinic or narcotics distributor do when an obviously pregnant female requests her crack? Is it discrimination for the government to refuse to provide a pregnant woman drugs when everyone else is entitled to the same fix?

And what about the care of the children born to these state-sponsored crack-addicted mothers? Do the costs of care, including special education and a lifetime of health care problems, have to be borne by the taxpayers? Of course, these costs will pale next to the costs of the personal injury suits likely to be filed by the plaintiffs’ bar. Innocent children who suffer brain damage, learning disabilities, and personality disorders are ripe clients for lawyers seeking a deep-pocket government defendant in an action for negligently providing narcotics to a pregnant woman. Legalization of drugs will divert the money now being spent on enforcement—plus more—into the hands of the private bar. No wonder the bar’s leaders have been among legalization’s greatest supporters.

Peter Reinharz
New York, N.Y.