Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mental Illness and Homelessness: Coming to a Town Near You!

From Dallas Morning News:
The Dallas Morning News is taking a closer look at the struggles of helping the chronically homeless. This article is the first in a series this year examining the costs of inadequate treatment and exploring possible solutions. The project received support from The Carter Center, which offers fellowships in mental health journalism.

The system designed to help – psychiatric hospitals, drug and alcohol treatment centers, mental health clinics and housing programs – isn't working for most of them. Many are reluctant to get help, but even if they're willing, they face a lack of available treatment beds and inadequate follow-up care.

These failures not only perpetuate homelessness but end up costing taxpayers millions for law enforcement, emergency care and other expenses that could be avoided.

"The system is just not there for them," said Ron Cowart, supervisor of the city's Crisis Homeless Outreach Unit, which has a team that focuses on the most difficult cases on the streets. "I look at many of these [homeless] encampments as being monuments of our failure to properly address the mentally ill homeless."

Dallas' new homeless assistance center, The Bridge, cost $21 million to build and another $7 million a year to operate. Terrell State Hospital, which handles the most extreme psychiatric crises, spent $1.7 million last year treating 132 homeless people. Dallas County spends about $11 million a year keeping an average of 566 homeless people per day in jail. And Dallas police have spent nearly $300,000 so far this year making 3,191 arrests downtown for panhandling, sleeping in public and public intoxication.

Read the rest here.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that my town's newspaper, the Tyler Morning Telegraph, would dare cover such topics, because it would mean admitting to having a homeless population and a population with mental illness.

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