SAN DONATO VAL DI COMINO, ITALY — At six o’clock each morning, the alcoholics, addicts and mentally ill residents of this Italian village emerge from their homes and congregate in the cafés around the town’s main square. Some of the hardened alcoholics order an espresso with a shot of liquor, then climb into work trucks and head out to farms and construction sites. The mentally ill order cups of coffee or sit at the patio tables empty-handed, an indication that they have run out of cash for the month.
My father was born in this village, where I’ve observed this early-morning ritual on family vacations for two decades. But this time it struck me in a new way. For the past 18 months, I’ve reported on homelessness, addiction and mental illness in American cities and spent hours with America’s most vulnerable residents, who, on the surface, struggle with the same afflictions as the residents here in San Donato.
In fact, the contrast is profound. In US West Coast cities, tens of thousands of addicts and mentally ill people live outdoors in squalid conditions and survive on a combination of panhandling, prostitution and property crime — which, in turn, creates disorder on urban streets.
Christopher F. Rufo is a documentary filmmaker and research fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth, Poverty and Morality. This column was adapted from City Journal, where he is a contributing editor.
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