ROTHENBURGER – Is a return to big institutions the answer to street issues?

Essondale. (Image: Govt of BC)

THERE WAS A TIME when the streets weren’t full of homeless, addicted, criminal or mentally ill people. A time when there were no panhandlers, when public washrooms weren’t used as shooting galleries, when alleyways and doorways weren’t defecated and urinated on, when people didn’t yell and act out in our shopping areas.

Every community had its “village idiot,” as they were so derogatorily called. There was one in the town I grew up in. He was tolerated because, they said, he’d suffered a head injury in the war. They said he had “a plate” in his head.

He was harmless, a part of the community. Those who weren’t harmless were in Coquitlam in Essondale, the “loonie bin” (formally called an insane asylum) that was later renamed Riverview. Mere mention of the word “Essondale” conjured up scary visions of lobotomies, shock therapy and incoherent, babbling, hard-to-control patients.

The early approach to mental illness, going back to the gold rush, was to lock them up and punish them if they didn’t behave. That evolved into a model of providing confined medical treatment, though some of the treatments were cruel, experimental and ineffective.


Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at

About Mel Rothenburger (9357 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

4 Comments on ROTHENBURGER – Is a return to big institutions the answer to street issues?

  1. Dear Mel,
    It’s time to get up out of your armchair and catch up to the times.

    We don’t stigmatize people with mental health challenges as “being ill” and we also don’t want to go back to your”good OLD days” when men were men
    “MEN-tally ill” beating up their women and removing the unwanted into residential schools.

    Today Mel we look for smaller local best practice solutions that are informed by peers who have the lived experiences that shine a bright light on the systemic causes of our societal challenges and crisis. We don’t “ spoon feed” patriarchal solutions to colonize and control those that need supports.

  2. Robert George // October 4, 2021 at 10:15 AM // Reply

    Did anyone else see a girl from the Seattle homeless population interviewed where she stated that 100 percent of that population were addicted. Street drugs are societys biggest problem.That and over population.We are not near tough enough on drug dealers. As i have stated many times,non addicted distributors of hard drugs should receive 25 years, no parole. They are murdering tens of thousands, as well as creating our present homeless problem. I am in favour of the return to capital punishment if these dealers,importers and manufacturers are found guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.

  3. Sean McGuinness // October 2, 2021 at 1:18 PM // Reply

    I agree that at least from our perspective, some people would be better off being “institutionalised”. But to define what kind of life a person should have has its issues. For one thing, a lot of folks on the street might prefer living there than in a nice clean “resort”. One might argue that some people are not mentally competent enough to determine how they should live. On many levels I agree with this. But this is complicated by the fact that in our society individuals have the right to live the way they want to. This is reflected in our constitution. Putting people away is taking away their liberty and one may run afoul of our laws.

    I think a first step might be to create free housing where people on the street can live, if they choose to. I don’t think this is going to solve alcohol/drug or mental health problems. But at least it will give these people a roof over their heads and a little more dignity.

  4. From psilocybin therapy to addressing income inequalities to mental institutions…it truly is a multi-facets approach. But vested interests and bureaucracy make progress a daunting challenge.

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