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 ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.