Opinion: North Broadway shows results of deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill

By Charles Frodsham | November 1, 2023

A recent essay in The Wall Street Journal entitled “It’s Time to Bring Back Asylums” provides food for thought about the mentally who now roam about freely and in too many cases attack members of the public going about their everyday lives.
The essay notes that a growing number of scholars believe that deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill — a national policy begun under President Kennedy — “has been a calamity for both the mentally ill and society at large.” The essay’s author, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Oshinsky, isn’t suggesting a return to the kind of horrific asylum portrayed in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Instead, he advocates modern, humane asylums that would “end the revolving door of homeless-hospitalization-prison that passes for policy today.”
Here’s my experience in Wichita. In the early 60s, while attending the University of Wichita (now Wichita State), I worked the evening shift for KFH Radio, located on the seventh floor of the KFH Building (later known as Sutton Place) in downtown Wichita. I don’t remember ever dealing in any way with — or even seeing — homeless people downtown. In walking, parking, or driving, I never felt unsafe downtown in those late hours. I parked on the street and my car was never vandalized.
Now, let’s talk about North Broadway between midnight and 1 a.m. In those years, I would meet friends who had signed off at midnight at other radio stations for a midnight snack and conversation at a beautiful all-night Holiday Inn-Midtown restaurant located at 1000 N. Broadway. Again, there was no reason to feel unsafe in that neighborhood at that time of night.  
But I’m not sure any rational person concerned about personal safety would want to be anywhere near that stretch of North Broadway these days late at night.
I also don’t recall the word “homeless” being used to describe what were referred to as vagrants. Since one of my responsibilities at KFH was to monitor police radio scanners, I do remember occasionally hearing about someone being arrested for — would you believe — vagrancy.
Between asylums for the mentally ill and vagrancy laws it seems like the streets were much safer for the public then than they are today in many cities. 
Charles Frodsham lives in Beloit, Kan. He can be contacted at ckfrodsham@nckcn.com.