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Ann Conway

Mentally Ill Benefit From an 'Un-Benefit'

May 19, 1987|Ann Conway

Here's to the un-benefit! No auction, no raffle, no slide presentation--not a single tribute during "Dinner at the Ritz," the annual fund-raiser for the Orange County Mental Health Assn.

"Just a superb meal," co-chairman Claire Burt said of the four-course repast about to be served Sunday at the Ritz restaurant in Newport Beach. "And the chance to be with very good friends. We use a personal approach because we want people to bond to us for life. We're not looking for temporary supporters."

After a champagne reception staged in the cushy bar area, about 225 guests, who had paid $150 each to attend, were seated at tables set with tall, flickering tapers and fresh floral bouquets. Wine buckets, made to look like inverted top hats, held an icy 1984 Lyeth Sauvignon Blanc.

As violinist Murray Korda romanced them with renditions such as "The Way You Look Tonight" and "La Vie en Rose," guests relished salmon in aspic dolloped with caviar, consomme of duck en croute , roast prime rib of veal (served with a 1983 Buena Vista Cabernet Sauvignon) and a chocoholic's dream--double chocolate souffle with a hint of Vandermint sauce. "I'm going to eat this and not give it a thought," declared committee member Gloria Gae Schick, dipping her spoon into the creamy, crusty chocolate. "Did you notice how I held back on the other courses just so I could enjoy this?"

Event proceeds, estimated at $30,000, will go into the organization's general service fund, said Maclay Burt, board president of the Mental Health Assn. Burt said the foremost project on the MHA's agenda is providing a day program for the mentally ill who are homeless. "Last year, the association became a contractor with the county to provide two 'drop-in' centers," he said.

At present, the association maintains one such center, a facility at a temporary site where the homeless mentally ill can "come in, have a hot meal, take a shower, get some clothes and some counseling," said Debbi Meyrowitz-Weiss, director of programs. "We're helping about 40 people per day."

According to John Garrett, executive director, the association is applying for permits for two permanent sites, one in central Orange County and one in the south. "The biggest difficulty," Garrett said, "is finding a city government willing to take responsibility for their community and allow this kind of program to operate."

People aren't anxious to have the mentally ill in their neighborhoods, explained Meyrowitz-Weiss. "This whole issue is a hot potato. People don't seem to want to look at the homeless mentally ill. But they're human with basic needs, just like everyone else. They just don't have the money to afford housing."

Claire Burt reminded those in attendance that the whole issue of the homeless mentally ill began "when Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, cut the budget. That resulted in a lot of mentally ill people being released from institutions into the community," she said. "And those communities were supposed to compensate by providing day-care centers and outpatient clinics, that sort of thing. But some counties just don't have the funds."

Orange County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, a member of Gov. George Deukmejian's Mental Health Council, said Orange County has never gotten its "fair share of state funding for mental health. We're about 50th on the list. And here we are, the second or third largest county--depending on which day you're counting--in the state."

Riley suggested that residents talk to their legislators and "write their supervisors." He added, "I am grateful for agencies such as the Mental Health Assn. It helps provide a legislative conscience."

Garrett said there are between 5,000 and 10,000 homeless estimated to be living in Orange County, about half of whom are mentally ill. "And that is the section of the homeless population that is the most poorly served," Garrett said. "The short goal of our drop-in centers is to provide immediate improvement in their quality of life. The long-term goal is help them back into society by teaching them to trust the mental health system and learn of the services still available to them."

Linda Johnson co-chaired the event. Charles Hester and Hans Prager--owner of the Ritz restaurant--were honorary chairmen.

Also serving on the committee were Jean Awad, Linda Bain, Judy Banning, Jo Ann Fix, Judy Hemley, Sheila Mann, Marilyn Nielsen, Andi Northcote, Suzanne Peltason, Lee Rodnick, Schick, Marion Shea, Peggy Sprague and Judy Threshie.

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