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Bill may help homeless mentally ill

The Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown last week agreed to spend $2 billion on housing for homeless people with serious mental illnesses. This would fund some 14,000 units. The need, however, is for 29,000 units, according to a federal survey.

The legislators were eager to approve this, because millionaires will be paying for it, thanks to a vote of the people two years ago.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out, especially when the legislators have to come up with the money to operate these facilities.

Housing for the mentally ill requires on-site care for the clients who stay there. These housing units won’t just be for the patients they serve, but for caretakers — presumably government employees — who will watch out for their charges.

If you read the recent series on homelessness in Madera, published by The Madera Tribune, you may have been struck by the fact that a lot of homelessness goes hand-in-hand with mental illness. Mentally ill homeless people need counseling, and medication in many cases. They also need protection from others and from their own self-destructive behavior.

Just building and furnishing apartment units won’t take care of any of that.

Many of the mentally ill homeless wind up in jails and prisons.

We are told that more than one-third of prison inmates are suffering from some degree of mental illness.

In the 1960s and 1970s, society, in its wisdom, closed almost all of the mental hospitals that had provided shelter and care for the mentally ill. Those people, basically, were thrown out on the street. They eventually wound up in jails and prisons, which to this day are the largest single source of help for the homeless mentally ill.

Some charities, such as the Madera Rescue Mission, work hard to provide shelter, food, safety and counseling to the homeless, but there are limits to how much these facilities can do.

Those who would help the homeless face ever-more-powerful foes, namely alcohol and drugs. Some argue that alcoholism and drug-addiction are mental illnesses, or the result of mental illnesses. If a mentally ill person tries to self-medicate with those substances, that person goes down a tunnel of despair, and the chances of his or her recovering become slim without being institutionalized.

Perhaps these housing units will be designed and built around more than just a shelter model, but also a care model that will provide the person being helped with a chance to have a normal life, or if not, at least to be cared for without having to be imprisoned.


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