This community is by now doing a reasonable job of feeding and providing emergency housing for the people of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. It is not doing a very good job of caring for their other needs.
Tentative hands of help are being held out to the homeless who are mentally ill or addicted to drink or drugs. But so far the outside community involvement is too narrow, the government commitment well-meaning but too traditional, and the attitude too prevalent that drugs and debilitation are acceptable on Skid Row.
What's to be done?
Los Angeles County will receive $7.3 million in state money from Gov. George Deukmejian's mental-health budget that has been expressly targeted by the Legislature for helping the homeless. The county's Department of Mental Health is still drawing up its plans for the money, but director Roberto Quiroz stresses the need for greater outreach to find the people who need outpatient treatment and for transitional residential programs to provide therapy once a person's immediate crisis has passed. He has spotted the right problems, and the Board of Supervisors should follow his lead.
The county already runs a drop-in clinic at the Weingart Center on Skid Row, but many wary people won't drop in. The supervisors should consider going beyond traditional approaches and contracting with some nonprofit groups that have already built rapport with the homeless mentally ill and thus could provide treatment in a setting where the homeless don't feel as threatened as some do in conventional clinics. The county should also consider increasing its housing-voucher payments if an organization is able to provide counseling services as well as the basic bed for the night.