The sight of a disheveled man or woman in tattered clothes, babbling incoherently or stonily mute as if transfixed by unseen demons, arouses in ordinary citizens mixed feelings of pity and aversion, compassion and fear. The tragic plight of these tormented souls has long been a national and local disgrace, yet until recently hardly any programs existed to offer practical assistance to such people.
Now Baltimore Mental Health Systems, Inc., a private, non-profit service agency, has announced it will establish two mobile treatment teams to reach out to the mentally ill homeless -- a hard-to-reach population that too often has fallen through the cracks of the city's social safety net.
On any given night, 2,000 to 3,000 homeless people live on the streets of Baltimore. Of that number, studies suggest that at least a third suffer from some form of serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, chronic depression or dementia.