Help for the Mentally Ill

At last, a massive research project is to be undertaken to develop a model for helping the chronically mentally ill live independently. This is good news indeed.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton will provide $28 million to major cities to finance the five-year study, working jointly with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which will provide rent subsidies with a long-term value of up to $75 million. The co-sponsors are the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Governors' Assn. and the National Assn. of Counties.

The misery of mentally troubled street people is only one small measure of a much larger problem--a problem that the nation has failed to address.

Over the last 30 years the number of hospitalized mental patients has decreased by more than 75% as hundreds of thousands have been transferred from institutions to their own homes. At the same time, the number of seriously disabled mentally ill has increased from an estimated 1.5 million in 1955 to 2.4 million at present.

Most American communities have not been prepared for this--witness Los Angeles. As a result, thousands are denied the outpatient care that they desperately need. And the principal response of community agencies and governments is to provide more sympathy than service.

"Emerging from all these efforts is the consensus that while the rationale for deinstitutionalization is a sound one, its implementation has been flawed," Johnson Foundation officials said. That is putting it mildly. Disorganization, lack of coordination, lack of facilities are evident.

But there are exemplary programs, and useful examples of the kinds of services that can meet this need--including residential facilities with some treatment and supervision, day rehabilitation and hospital services, supervised transitional employment and special sheltered work programs.

This research is intended to clarify what it takes "to strengthen the potential of these individuals to live independently," including a comprehensive system of care and rehabilitation and expanded housing options.

There will now be a competition among the nation's 60 largest cities to determine which eight will have experimental programs. Los Angeles, including all levels of its government, must make a determined effort to see that one of the projects is here. Los Angeles, like most other urban areas of the nation, has much to learn.

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