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Retardation Adds to Homeless Woes

January 31, 1988

I read the account of the homeless mentally ill who stay in the Westside area (Dec. 31), wondering how many mentally retarded men and women were among them. I have known . . . (a) number of mentally ill adults with mental retardation who have turned their backs on inappropriate living arrangements to try life on the streets.

Concern for them is unleashed with each new report I read. With virtually no relevant housing programs on the Westside or, for that matter, in many other areas, where could they be? Are they safe and well?

Persons who are both mentally retarded and mentally ill (known as dually diagnosed) have a double stigma to fight, and, although more often than not, they are housed, however unsuitably, there are many who have no roots, rotating from one board-and-care home to the next, practicing another form of homelessness.

I think your Westside story hit me hard because I am one among many parents in that part of town who struggle daily with the fact that the need for appropriate residential programs is going unheeded, not only for those who are mentally ill but for many of our sons and daughters who are at once mentally ill and mentally retarded.

Undeniably, there is relief in the fact that dually diagnosed persons receive a measure of protection from the developmental disabilities system. But, by the same token, this places them in a position to be much better served than they are. In truth, dually diagnosed persons appear to have a lot until you learn of their needs.

It is generally acknowledged that men and women who are both mentally retarded and mentally ill are stabilized better and experience greater personal dignity when the structured programs they require are delivered in small residential settings. However, such clients are usually provided with only one or the other: Either they receive needed programs but in hopelessly outdated facilities under mass-care conditions, as they do in some Westside locations, or they go without vital support systems but live with a few residents in a homelike setting.

Your feature story, "Homeless and Helpless" written by Jay Goldman about a psychiatrist treating needy individuals on the streets, has reawakened my concerns for the well-being of dually diagnosed children and adults. It has made me aware that whether we are writing about people who are mentally ill and homeless or misplaced dually diagnosed persons, it is all of a piece--one more link in the chain of unmet human needs.

MURIEL COHEN

Los Angeles

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