A Trip To Cuckoo’s Nest Museum And Reminder Of How Far We Have To Go

A light snow was falling and motorists unfamiliar with slick conditions were moving slower than usual as I headed from Portland, Oregon, on Friday to nearby Salem to meet with Dr. Dean Brooks’s three daughters.

My friend, Dr. Brooks, died in July at age 96, after spending much of his life advocating for persons with mental disorders. He was best known for being the superintendent at the Oregon State Hospital when the movie, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, was filmed there. Dean played himself in that classic film.

I was meeting with Dennie Brooks, Ulista Jean Brooks, and India Brooks Civey to tour a new museum that opened at the state hospital, in large part because of their efforts. More about the museum in a moment. First, I want to mention what I heard broadcast on the local National Public Radio affiliate as I was driving.

Several local reporters were discussing news events and because snowfall is unusual in Portland, one mentioned that the city only had 1,000 emergency shelter beds for the estimated 2,500 homeless persons living on its streets. She then mentioned that many homeless individuals were refusing to go into shelters despite the cold.

All of us have heard this before along with the explanation that the homeless actually prefer living outdoors under the stars to coming inside. This is nonsense. Having spent time actually talking to homeless individuals I can tell you that this explanation is more rooted in our desire to feel better about ourselves — for leaving them to freeze to death on the streets —  then in reality.

Yes, people do refuse to go to shelters. But if you dig deeper, you will discover that many refuse to go to shelters because (a.) shelters are often dangerous (b.) homeless individuals who go into shelters often lose all of their earthly possessions because there is no place to put them in a shelter so they are left behind and often destroyed on the streets (c.) shelters don’t allow you to drink or use drugs and many homeless individuals have co-occurring drug and alcohol problems as well as underlying mental disorders and are immediately kicked out if they drink or use drugs.

–Pete Earley

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