In their article "On the Streets, Our Promise Unkept" (Op-Ed Page, Nov. 7), Michael Dear and Jennifer Wolch criticize New York City for providing homeless mentally ill people with compulsory treatment and hospitalization. They contend that this is a violation of the civil rights of the mentally ill. Their solution is "de-institutionalization" and local community-based care. Unfortunately, there are several problems with this approach.
Community-based treatment plays an important role in an integrated mental health care system. However, the authors fail to mention that these out-patient clinics rely on the patient to seek treatment, take medicine, etc. While such programs are helpful for those mentally disturbed people who can live independently in the community, the severely ill people need 24-hour care to protect themselves and others.
While the authors speak of the civil rights of the mentally ill homeless, they should include their right to treatment. This is a right which is violated when we turn out into the streets those who lack the ability to cope and to care for themselves.
New York City is following a humane policy by providing compulsory treatment, without supervision, for homeless mentally ill who require it. I urge support for AB 2678 by Assemblywoman Doris Allen which would give California mental health officials similar authority to provide extended care when appropriate.
MICHAEL D. ANTONOVICH
Chairman, Board of Supervisors