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Vote Smart, and Humane 

Sadly, we've become a nation of us and them, of who's better and who's worse — a nation of frightened and judgmental beings. We can judge others but others have no right to judge us. How enormously sad and backward and inhumane.

We blame the homeless for being homeless, yet people working 40 hours a week at minimum wage still qualify for — and often need — foods stamps.

Most of us are old enough to remember when we didn't have a homeless problem. Sure, there were bums, freight train riders who were mostly older men unable to hold a job or a family. Mostly delusional, they kept to the rail yards looking for day jobs in exchange for a meal.

It wasn't that people just decided, one day in the 1960s, to just quit working and live off the streets. It was our politicians who forced this hand.

Let's talk for a moment just about California. As governor, Ronald Reagan, along with his Republican party, led the worst, most shameful mental health policies in decades as California became the leader in moving mentally institutionalized patients from hospitals to cheaper, for-profit group homes. By the end of Reagan's first term in the late 1960s, more than half of California's mental patients were in these board and care homes, as they were called. The Lanterna-Petris-Short Act was then passed and went into effect in 1972, abolishing — except in extreme cases — the involuntary hospitalization of people exhibiting mental health needs.

The results were quickly apparent as board and care homes popped up all over poor and downtrodden neighborhoods, offering low rents, substandard health care and poor housing conditions. The also went unmonitored and this became the California norm. When many patients wandered off or were evicted because of their mental health issues, they became homeless in numbers never before seen. By the 1970s, the newly homeless were wandering the streets, unmonitored and unmedicated, living in skid rows and filling rundown hotels and motels, and being taken advantage of. This was the start of homelessness and its myriad of problems.

California also became the first state with a noticeable rise in incarcerations and violence on the streets. Many more arrests were made as society and the police found it the most reliable way to detain the mentally ill, and soon more jails were being built. To date, neither California's treatment of the mentally ill nor its homeless issues have ever recovered.

Reagan would continue this legacy into his presidency. Reagan's predecessor, Jimmy Carter, signed into law the Mental Health Systems Act in 1980. It was a federal grant that allowed all individual states access to funding for the prevention of mental illness and to promote policies for positive mental health.

But once the Republican party, led by President Reagan, took power in the 1980s, the Mental Health Systems Act was discarded. States no longer got federal grants to help fund research or mental health programs. Reagan never understood mental illness and its impact on society. He came from an era when people didn't talk about their own dealings with family mental issues. He may have had no idea about how many families were affected, or he may not have cared. And though he would soon go on to be shot by an untreated schizophrenic man, Reagan was never interested in research or treatment of the mentally ill. Reagan died, many years later, of complications from Alzheimer's disease.

So before you judge and blame the majority of the homeless for their innate "laziness" and "not wanting to work," please realize the majority of these people have real illnesses and cannot work on any reliable time schedule.

But really remember who got us into this mess in the first place and how. We still don't have any concrete answers to this increasingly frustrating and expensive problem.

And remember that it really matters who we vote into office. Don't vote for someone who runs a scare campaign with a mob mentality, nor someone who has us blaming each other, thus forming separations from one another. Not someone who hasn't the vision or simply doesn't care to see that we all need each other and are stronger united. And not someone who does not have the experience to realize that one ill-begotten, one-sided, bad law signed without thought or regard for the future can, and will, end up being as expensive and seemingly uncontrollable as homelessness.

I beg of you, get informed. Read all you can about the backgrounds of our candidates, local and national, and their past attitudes on important issues before you vote. That way, when you do vote — and you must — you can vote smart.

Skylar Blue resides in Hydesville.

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Skylar Blue

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