Why Is It Acceptable For Americans With Mental Illnesses To Freeze To Death

America will face a critical existential reckoning for its callous disregard for homelessness and poverty

Pete Early, January 11, 2019

(1-11-19) From My Files Friday: Whenever forecasters predict snow, I think about those who are homeless, psychotic and abandoned. Stories about hypothermia deaths always anger me, but few did as much as this death that I first noted in 2010. Are any of us naive enough to believe that such preventible tragedies will not happen again this winter in the most prosperous nation in the world?

WHO IS TO BLAME FOR THIS DEATH?

The residents of Morrisville, Pa., got an insider look at our troubled mental health care system. Paulette Wilkie, a homeless woman with a long history of schizophrenia, was found dead from exposure. The 56 year-old woman’s  body was discovered behind Ben’s Deli, a sandwich shop that she frequented.

Temperatures the night before had dropped into the mid 20s. But that was not cold enough to trigger the county’s emergency homeless plan. Temperatures must sink to 20 degrees or below for two consecutive days before teams can be dispatched to try to persuade homeless persons to come indoors.

Reporter Ben Finley, writing in the Bucks County Courier Times, noted that people who knew Wilkie said she likely would not have gone into a shelter anyway. The owner of Ben’s Deli said Wilkie refused help from people concerned about her safety and health.

Wilkie’s father said his daughter had been in-and-out of a local community mental health center for more than 20 years. She’d lived in a group home until last year. Another resident said Wilkie was asked to leave the home after she stopped taking her medication. Wilkie’s father said his daughter did not like to take her medication.

He said mental health officials told him that she couldn’t move back into the group home until she “got back on the medication and was clean.”  Her father added that his daughter had been hospitalized about a month ago and that he probably should have moved her into his house when she was discharged, but he was concerned about doing that since she was not taking her anti-psychotic pills.

The owners of Anthony’s Pizza and Ben’s Deli said Wilkie was a regular fixture on their street. Everyone knew her and knew that she had a mental disorder. She always wore the same parka, hood lined with fur, even in the summertime. Shortly before her death,  the two business owners said they noticed a sharp decline in her mental health. She was losing weight and had stopped bathing.

On the weekend when she died, Wilkie had gone into Anthony’s Pizza, but the store’s owner had asked her to leave because she smelled very bad and customers were exiting the store.

**“My wife was here and she said (Wilkie) is going to freeze out there,” the owner told the newspaper.

...**

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