JEWISH JOURNAL : LOVE and HEARTACHE by HAYLEY FOX - PSYCHIATRIC CARE - LA's MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM
EXCERPTS: According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, L.A. is home to nearly 9,000 homeless people with mental illnesses. In L.A. County jails, there were more than 4,000 inmates with mental illness as of May 2016, the Los Angeles Times reported last month. Without access to proper treatment, housing or legal guidance, it’s all too easy for people to fall between the cracks or simply get lost amid the bureaucracy. In fact, Laurie himself was a casualty of this overloaded system, and without his brother’s diligence, he would have ended up standing trial instead of being recognized by the court as mentally ill and being placed under a conservatorship.
Greg Spiegel is the director of strategic initiatives at the Inner City Law Center on Skid Row. For more than 35 years, this nonprofit law firm has been helping protect low-income families from eviction, developing strategies to end homelessness and placing veterans, the homeless and the disabled into secure, affordable housing.
“Over the last 10, 15, 20 years, we’ve learned that the way to end somebody’s homelessness is housing first,” Spiegel told the Journal in an interview.
It’s difficult for people to get clean or consistently take medication while living on the street, Spiegel said, so for individuals like Laurie Ritz with a serious mental illness, and/or those with drug addiction, the best first step on the road to recovery is permanent supportive housing. Such stable, long-term accommodations include built-in support systems that many homeless need, including doctors and counselors.
...Given L.A.’s housing shortage and lack of other stabilizing resources, many individuals with mental illnesses end up in L.A. County’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility, making it one of the largest mental health facilities in the United States. In just the past few years, Laurie has been sent to the decrepit downtown L.A. jail on multiple occasions, for up to six months. Much of this time was spent waiting for a judge to decide whether he was competent to stand trial.
“Each time is one too many,” said Laurie, who agreed to share his story with the Journal in an effort to help others avoid his same fate. “It’s not the kind of place anyone wants to go to, and certainly not go back to again.”
L.A. County’s inadequate treatment of its mentally ill inmates has been widely criticized by mental health advocates and the federal government alike. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice, which had been monitoring conditions within the jails for more than a decade, concluded “serious deficiencies” remain in the mental health care system. These are made worse by “inadequate supervision and deplorable environmental conditions,” such as insufficient cleaning of “feces-smeared cells,” depriving inmates of their constitutional right to mental health care.
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