Friday, March 25, 2022

Mending the frayed social safety net

     “Angels don’t speak English, they speak emotion,” Edgar, a gaunt 24-year-old, tells Ryann Billitteri as she approaches him outside the Taco Bell at Dearborn and Van Buren Wednesday afternoon. “The translation is through your life....”
     He continues, blending near-poetry and conspiracy theories, wild claims and philosophical riffing, as Billitteri, a caseworker at Thresholds, gently steers him out of the rain and into the restaurant, where she buys him a Taco Supreme (“If you could bless me with extra sour cream on the side,” he says) and tries to get Edgar to sign a form to help him get off the street and into housing. Where he sleeps now, he says, is “classified.”
     Edgar sits and talks. Billitteri, team lead of Thresholds’ homeless outreach program, listens, silently proffering a pen. But he doesn’t sign. She’s been trying for months.
     Only about a third of Illinoisans who need treatment for mental illness get it; social services in the state are perennially underfunded, trimmed to the bone after years of sweeping budget cuts.
     “Since time immemorial,” said Heather O’Donnell, senior vice president of public policy and advocacy at Thresholds, which provides a range of mental health, addiction and housing support for the disadvantaged, plus guiding the formerly incarcerated as they transition back into society. “This has been happening for decades; it’s just snowballing because of the pandemic.”

To continue reading, click here.


  1. Until we change some laws back to make it possible to force the mentally ill homeless into residential treatment, they will continue to be on the street, begging for money, self medicating with booze & drugs & putting themselves into danger.
    The policies of the 1960s have failed them & we need to fix that mess.

    1. The policies of the Reagan administration are responsible for the cuts in funding that resulted in the lack of treatment facilities for people suffering from mental illness. Appallingly The prison industrial complex has emerged as a profitable investment instrument starting in the Clinton administration for wealthy people to make money from this .

      Forcing people into what residential treatment facilities?

      Civil liberties are a right even for the mentally ill.

      Society is judged on how it treats its least fortunate. The laws that should be changed are the ones that allow for profit prisons and criminalize drug use.

      Some rational fair housing policies would go a longways towards mitigating this catastrophe . Along with more people willing do the work Ms. Billitteri is engaged in.

  2. A well-presented, if rather depressing column. The priorities represented by what gets funded and what doesn't in this society never cease to disappoint. At least the current administrations, both in Springfield and Washington, are attempting to do better.

    Lots of photos, between EGD and the paper. I like how you see her offering the pen in the 2 here and then, when you follow the link, there's one of him actually signing.


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