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Los Angeles: A Modern-Day Bedlam, a Madhouse

Most people know the definition of the word bedlam; a scene of confusion, panic and hysteria. The word is derived from an old English slang term for St. Mary Bethlehem Hospital in London, founded in the 13th century.

The word bedlam comes from a hospital in London, where people could tour and view the mentally ill, much like people in Los Angeles can do when walking by homeless encampments.

Today, it is a modern psychiatric care facility, but in the centuries before psychotherapy, it was the living definition of a madhouse. A 1450 letter from the Lord Mayor of London reads, “[At the] Church of Our Lady that is named Bedlam. And in that place be found many men that be fallen out of their wit. And full honestly they be kept in that place; and some be restored onto their wit and health again. And some be abiding therein forever, for they be fallen so much out of themselves that it is incurable unto man”.

Patients were often chained to the wall, subjected to ice baths, and tied to their beds for days. In its heyday as a local curiosity, wealthy Londoners paid to tour the wards to watch people shriek, wrestle unseen demons, or repeat compulsive behaviors like incessantly pacing in their cells. In a very real sense, the inmates were in charge of the asylum, since staffing tended to be minimal and guards, at best, were uncaring. In such a chaotic institution, very few patients were “restored to their wit”.

Los Angeles’ power structure seems to be a modern example of a place where “men have fallen out their wit.”

When it comes to policies on homelessness and housing, “bedlam” may be considered a polite term. No better example can be click here. During her speech, the Mayor asked businesses, many of which have already been impacted by the homeless encampments around them, to chip in for building housing that’s been tagged by former City Controller Ron Galperin as costing 1.5 to 2 times more than market to build.

This would be for housing where so-called “wrap-around” services are practically nonexistent and have become click here.  Apparently, she’s forgotten or ignored the fact that the state has spent $24 billion on homelessness and housing with nothing to show for it click here.

Multiple times, she referred to breaking the status quo, when in fact all she is doing is pumping more money into a broken system.

She claimed the City, County, and LAHSA have never worked together more closely, yet in the past month, LAHSA has issued a scurrilous report on the City’s anti-camping ordinance, LAMC 41.18, which Council President Kerkorian properly called inaccurate and irresponsible.

In return, the City and County have ordered audits of LAHSA’s finances and operations.  Perhaps Bass forgot that in his order for a comprehensive audit of homelessness programs, federal judge David Carter said, in the absence of documentary evidence, “If our providers in the field don’t have the underlying documentation, the presumption is the opposite — that they didn’t do the work.”

Mayor Bass claimed her Inside Safe and other programs have got more people off the street and into housing than ever before, yet homelessness continues to rise.  Indeed, the numbers (to the extent they can be trusted) from the City’s own click here  suggest those programs are dismally underperforming, sometimes permanently housing as few as four percent of the people in various interim facilities.  And as we know from previous reports, neither the City nor LAHSA know how many of the “permanently” housed are unique individuals, nor what their long-term outcomes are.

In early 1865, as Union forces closed in on Richmond, Confederate President Jefferson Davis gave a fiery speech full of defiance and hope. He assured listeners soldiers would soon flock back to the colors and throw the implacable U.S. Grant out of Virginia, regaining all the territory lost in previous years.

It was, Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens said, one of the finest and most rousing speeches he’d ever heard, but in the end, it was “little short of demention” because of Davis’s inability or unwillingness to recognize reality.

Reading a transcript of Mayor Bass’ speech, we must wonder what version of reality she chooses to see-the world of her rhetoric or the world where 3.8 million Angelenos live the reality of a City where more than 46,000 people are living on the streets, many of them with serious mental illness or substance abuse problems.

Perhaps bedlam is the proper definition of the times we are living in.

Mayor Karen Bass has suggested the wealthy help move the homeless off the streets.

Posted on April 17, 2024 by Sue


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