A well-meaning desire to find community settings for deeply troubled people can turn deadly in other ways. Mentally disabled adults and substance abusers, some just in their 20s, are marbled throughout Boston’s public housing for the elderly. The folly of that mix became evident Wednesday, when William Thomas, a 78-year-old resident of a Brighton complex, was shot to death - at the hands, authorities say, of Randy Moore, a 54-year-old mentally ill neighbor.
Local public housing officials have been warning about the potential dangers of the federal housing policy since the early 1990s. Usually, those complaints focused on quality-of-life concerns created by unstable younger residents who bring drugs, prostitutes, and unsavory characters into the building. Now, “the outrageous public policy’’ is being implicated by BHA director Bill McGonagle in a murder investigation.
It makes good sense to allow some younger adults with physical handicaps into buildings that were designed to be easily accessible to the elderly. There may be room, too, for a small number of people with less severe mental illnesses. But a federal policy that allows almost a third of the residents to be younger than the normal eligibility age of 62 destroys the very notion of elderly housing.
Group homes for people with chronic mental illness, if well-managed, offer the structure and staffing need for the mentally ill to live in the community. The elderly should be entitled to their own space, along with the peace, quiet, and safety befitting their years.