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Moral Compass on the Fritz Over Homeless Mentally Ill

Susan Vinson of Ventura made these remarks last week to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors

It has appropriately been stated that city of Ventura officials need to develop a “moral compass” to guide their actions toward the homeless and mentally ill. They have, however, dramatically identified a local crisis--part of which involves the shuttling of the mentally ill from hospital to hotel. Responsibility for this despicable practice falls squarely in the lap of the county.

In spite of the recent scolding the Alliance for the Mentally Ill received from the county Behavioral Health Department for interfering in the case-management extender program, I make no apologies for offering suggestions toward the improvement of today’s crisis in the sub-acute care of our mentally ill.

If the county can provide a “safe house” for unstable ill people to go to after their release from the hospital and a case-management extender program, then my blessings go with both.

Meanwhile, we have been informed by the Behavioral Health Department that its proposal for dealing with the void in sub-acute care facilities is not projected until July of next year.

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Because Supervisor Susan Lacey recently wrote that she is committed to the long-term success of mental health programs without making short-term compromises, I would expect Behavioral Health or the Human Services Agency to be ready to allocate resources for a short-term fix to this winter’s crisis. Behavioral Health has $150,000 set aside in this year’s budget for an unproved pilot program. The alliance suggests that this could be part of the solution to the current crisis, unless someone else has a better idea. I frankly don’t see any other solutions coming forth for the short term.

If working through the Turning Point Foundation to provide supervised short-term housing for sub-acute patients in one of the downtown hotels is not a viable suggestion, we have made others.

The alliance also has suggested using the former county outpatient facility, which has stood vacant for the past two years. There is space there for 28 beds. When the alliance asked about plans to use that space, the idea was dismissed because the building has asbestos and needs retrofitting. Asbestos is not a problem unless it is removed. The retrofitting regulations won’t be enforced for a few more years. Just last week, in my conversations with John Chaudie, chairman of the Mental Health Board, he saw that outpatient site as a viable jail-diversion facility.

Can someone tell me why--really why--when we have a facility that was safe enough for mentally ill patients two years ago, it can’t be part of today’s short-term solution?

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A third suggestion is moving the administrative office for Behavioral Health elsewhere and converting the county-owned structure on Hillmont (which was previously an outpatient facility) to a transition house--or even long-term housing.

At our meeting with Behavioral Health administrators, we were told this strategy would indeed fall within the normally insurmountable federal and state regulations. Even so, the idea made them laugh. It may be an immodest proposal. We have, however, an immodest problem. It seems to me no more immodest than the recent merger.

When a dozen fatalities occur on Highway 126, someone finds $44 million to throw at the problem. But when a dozen mentally ill people die, no one is held accountable.

Now that we have all the highly touted benefits of “blended resources” with the newly formed Human Services Agency, I would expect money can now be freed up to help the homeless mentally ill.

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Perhaps if it were your sons and daughters whose lives were on the line, we would see politics and bureaucratic egos set aside long enough to scrounge up a Band-Aid. At the very least, to help stop the hemorrhaging until a tourniquet can be applied.

From where I stand, nobody’s moral compass is pointing due north when it comes to caring for the seriously mentally ill.


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