Opinion editor’s note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes letters from readers online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.


I found myself in agreement with Nick Magrino’s essay, “Hard facts on drugs, mental illness must be faced” (Opinion Exchange, Oct. 1).

Magrino correctly remarks on our neglect and hypocrisy for the drug-addicted and the homeless. “The chronically homeless are dying on our streets, in our parks, on our trains,” he writes. He goes on to state with a justified taint of bitterness that the homeless “will not be helped by another five years of articles quoting nonprofit executives vaguely alluding to ‘connecting’ them to ‘services.'” And: “The proud Facebook photos of upper-middle class suburbanites dropping off supplies in an unfamiliar neighborhood are charming but not doing the trick.”

Decades ago, our Twin Cities streets were not filled with people begging on our roadsides. Our neighborhoods were not subject to the rise of — there’s no other term — Hoovervilles, as in the Phillips neighborhood, where I once lived. We had a functioning system of state hospitals that provided a home for people with schizophrenia who could not feed or house themselves.

That abandonment of the helpless began in the Reagan era, when it was decided to close federal and state hospitals, citing the ridiculous excuse that the newer pharmaceuticals would render mental illness as “manageable.” The rise of homelessness in the U.S. was a choice — made by our elected officials, and by those of us who elected them — to turn our backs to those in crisis. Homelessness, and the epidemic of drug use, didn’t just happen; it was caused by the decision to withhold our care for those in need. We of the well-housed and well-fed were part of that decision, whether conscious of it or not.

It has been said that a society ought to be judged by how it cares for the poorest and most powerless within its ranks. I believe that our present-day scuttling of the poor, addicted and homeless would be judged as a crime against humanity.

William J. Stieger, St. Paul


Despite having some difference of opinion with Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty’s philosophy of justice for younger perpetrators, I’ll give her the fact that she’s fulfilling what she said she would do (“Sentences shock victims’ families,” Oct. 1). She could help her cause greatly, however, by sharing how she came to adopt that philosophy. Or the reporter could have led her down that road with a question or two.

Specifically this: Is there any evidence that her approach (i.e., less harsh sentences) works better? Is there any scientific research to show that recidivism is less as a result of her belief? In fact, I rather like the concept of her approach, but I’m very skeptical as well, especially with only a bunch of “I thinks” backing up her beliefs. The victims’ families deserve to see more science brought to the table. Actually, we all deserve that — since we may be the next victims of a repeat, probation-serving offender.

James Gels, Minnetonka


There’s no shortage of encouragement to suburbanites like me to come back and spend time in downtown Minneapolis. You know what would bring me back? Benches. Lots of them. I have a disability and need to sit down from time to time. I’m scared to go down there. I’m not afraid of crime — I’m afraid I’ll get stranded with no place to sit. It’s a disability access issue!

Nancy Wicklund Gonzalez, St. Anthony


David Johnson recommends that “at the top of that list should be how the University of Minnesota can measurably help improve the health status of all Minnesotans” (“Task force should focus on health, not health care,” Opinion Exchange, Oct. 2).

Delivery of care from ordinary to complex is a task already done by thousands of health care workers, many educated at the University of Minnesota. Forgotten is that the remarkable improvement in Minnesotans’ health is due in large part to the academic innovations created at the U. This has ranged from the mundane, like the effect of dietary cholesterol on health, to the routine use of cardiac pacemakers, and led to incredible feats of kidney and cardiac transplantations.

The U medical system’s facilities are being overwhelmed with delivering care for many needy people. The need for more places delivering such care, the need for housing and the issue of inflation are sociologic problems that ought to be addressed by our politicians; these are problems over which the medicine has no control.

If the U medical campus is not able to expand, it will stagnate in all its missions: research and care of the sickest patients.

Johnson hopes that new “population health payment models” will be magical health and cost panaceas. This ignores the last 50 years of failed cost controls that have created mendacious means of rationing care and medical inflation instead of enhancing health.

In contrast, academic research has helped save millions of lives. To not fund the U’s medical campus expansion would be to lose the academic innovations needed to create millions of more healthy patients.

Robert W. Geist, North Oaks


The commentary “Land of the lonely, home of the friendless” by David French (Opinion Exchange, Oct. 1) seems helpful but only offers half of the equation in nurturing relationships. Being there for your friend is very important. The other part of the equation is reaching out. Historically women have been much better at reaching out and maintaining relationships than men. Men tend to be reluctant for various reasons — partly because it’s not manly to reach out for help or comfort. Assuming what the other person wants or needs or what might be helpful is an awkward process, making it harder to step forth and offer contact or support. So my hope is that a person can reach out when contact with a friend would be helpful to them.

Both sides play an active role in nurturing relationships. And women seem better at this.

Bruce Hermansen, Apple Valley


With my daily concerns about wars, politics and society there is occasionally an article that makes me laugh, brings back memories and gives me a break. Such was the column in Sunday’s paper by James Lileks. The subject? “Our coffee may be weak, but … OK, there is no but.”

It reminded me of an incident a long time ago when my sister invited her in-laws, visiting relatives from a Scandinavian country (I can’t remember which one), to stop by for a visit. She had been told they liked their coffee very strong so she bought the strongest ground coffee she could find. When the relatives sat down she asked if they would like some coffee. “Wonderful, please!” they replied. They were all sitting at the dining room table when they looked up from their first sip and the only one who could speak English said, “Would you happen to have any instant coffee?” Confused, she said she did and placed it on the table. The visitors took spoonfuls of instant coffee and added it to their coffee. Lileks is absolutely right.

Jerry Jacobson, Woodbury


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