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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Campus May Hold Answer to Housing

Mental health: Some want the county to buy 16 homes on the grounds of the former state hospital and move them to a site for use by the mentally ill.

March 10, 2000|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As Ventura County grapples with a shortage of housing for its mentally ill, Supervisor Frank Schillo says one solution may lie on the grounds of the planned Cal State Channel Islands campus.

Schillo and others want the county to purchase 16 houses, which now sit on the campus of the former Camarillo State Hospital, and move them to a nearby county-owned site close to where Schillo has proposed housing for more than 200 seriously mentally ill patients.

"You could take these homes, put them up one side and down the other, and it's a community, a little neighborhood of their own," he said.

The three-bedroom, two-bath houses, once home to employees of the now-defunct state hospital, are scheduled for removal later this year to make room for higher density student and staff housing.

The houses, simple wood frame and stucco structures with hardwood floors, are believed to date to the 1940s and are in generally good condition, said Doug Tapking, executive director of the Area Housing Authority of the County of Ventura, who is spearheading the relocation effort.

Tapking said with the campus "green" policy, which seeks to benefit the environment in part by recycling rather than destroying, campus officials like the idea that the houses could be moved to another site and put to good use, rather than demolished.

Local housing and government officials say the houses could be a cost- and time-efficient alternative to building new housing, while providing a place to go for 16 to 48 people with mental illness who require only modest assistance or supervision.

Schillo, who has taken a leading role in finding new housing for the mentally ill, envisions relocating the homes to a three-acre county parcel off Lewis Road in Camarillo, adjacent to a site where he has proposed housing for the mentally ill.

Officials stress that the plans are in early stages.

Tapking is reluctant to talk about plans in more detail because so much research still lies ahead before leaders can decide whether to proceed. His crews were headed to the site Thursday to begin surveying the homes and assessing transportation costs.

Salvaging and relocating houses typically costs half of what it takes to build a new home and can be done in half the time, Tapking said. Still, he said, moving is expensive.

"The largest expense is the infrastructure. You've got to put in a road, and water, sewer, pads, put the house back down, hook it up and rehabilitate the house. The electrical, plumbing and heating would have to be brought back up to code."

Meanwhile, an agreement has yet to be worked out with the university, which may want to remove the homes as early as June. University officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Schillo won't bring any formal proposal before the Board of Supervisors for at least a month, he said.

One reason is that the 17-acre Lewis Road parcel must be removed from consideration as a site for the county's planned juvenile justice complex--a decision expected in early April--before the smaller adjacent site can be considered for the housing project.

If the deal were brokered by Tapking's agency rather than the county itself, much of the cost might be absorbed by the federal government, the agency's major funding source. That, in turn, could relieve the county's strained finances. The agency has some experience with housing for the mentally ill, as owner of the 30-bed Las Posadas site and the Villa Calleguas project now under construction, Tapking said.

Leaders see a nice symbolism in recycling part of what was once the main source of housing and care for the county's mentally ill. The state's shutting down of the hospital in 1997 was the catalyst for today's shortage in housing for the mentally ill.

Currently, each of the houses is occupied by a former hospital employee or university personnel, said Steve Gregory, 38. A former psychiatric technician for the hospital, Gregory moved into his unit, Residence No. 9, in 1997, after he lost his job and sold his home. He was hired as a county firefighter in 1998 but has stayed in the house while he looks for a new home. He pays rent of $550 a month to the university.

Gregory and other residents were notified about three months ago that they would have to move out between June and October, because of plans to demolish the houses. Gregory said that made him sad, particularly since his mother, also a former hospital employee, had worked in No. 9 in the 1980s, when it served as a children's unit.

If he has to move out anyhow, Gregory said he would rather see the house salvaged and relocated. "They have so much history," he said.

Beyond ties to the past, Schillo said the houses would help fill a desperate need. Already 40 mentally ill patients have had to be moved out of the county for housing, and county health officials have requested more than $1 million be released this year for more housing.

"There's no place for them to go, let's face it," Schillo said. "That's why we're working on this."

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