There was an eye-opening piece on 60 Minutes on Sunday regarding the treatment of the mentally ill in America. This is what Congress should be debating today instead of a four year old health care passed law. They focused on the Cook County jail labeling it the largest insane asylum in America. I think that the Los Angeles jail could make a legitimate claim on that title, but I am not sure it is a fight that either city would want to engage in. The reality is that mentally ill people run into problems with the law often because they have a hard time finding help. The Justice Center downtown has a significant number of mentally ill people. This was a good hard look at the failing mental health system, and the relationship with the mass shootings in Aurora, Navy Yard, Tucson, Newtown, and Virginia Tech. We have seen this play out locally in East Cleveland and on Imperial Ave. A small-small-small number of mentally ill people have problems that lead to violence. The problem is that we cast so many away to deal with their problems on their own that it is hard to pick out the few that are going to become violent.
Everyday, we come across people who are not a threat to themselves or others but need a great deal of help. We have women who sleep outside and have regular fights with neighbors and rants everyday about people who are out to get her. She has been in and out of the hospital for years. She is evaluated and it is determined that she is angry but not a threat to anyone and then released. She has slept rough for so many years that her body is falling apart. We have no effective way to deal with her in our society. Community groups do not have the money or patience to build a relationship with her, and she does not trust any of the agencies that pink slip her into a hospital for evaluation (against her will). She cannot live independently. We have tried. She either begins hoarding items or collecting inappropriate pets and quickly faces eviction from a landlord. Where can this woman live in our community? [Yes, permanent supportive housing is great, but you have to be homeless for a long period of time, and there are not enough to meet the demand.]
This women who lives outside needs healthcare and health professional attached to housing. She needs a safe place that will understand how to deal with her hallucinations. We need to fulfill the promises of elected officials when we shut down the asylums in the 1970s. We need a massive infusion of funds into the mental health system. We need help to provide medicine and oversight to people struggling with a mental illness. We need a place in our society for people who hear voices and those paranoid that is not an expensive jail. We need a place for people who are frequent flyers at the emergency room and do not realize that they cannot bring a gun to the airport or cause a standoff with the police. We need a place for people who repeatedly make attempts on their life and are stabilized then released to live on the streets. I would have been willing to give back my tax cut I received from the state of Ohio for the past five years, if they would provide help for the mentally ill that did not involve homeless shelters, jails or hospital emergency rooms.
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