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Streets Are No `Choice' for the Mentally Ill

November 22, 2001

I have been a mental health professional for over 15 years, much of it spent in the development and management of direct services for mentally ill children and adults. Public outcry is required to bring the changes in policies that eventually lead to changes in funding streams and service delivery and integration. It is then that we will begin to change the immorality of indifference toward our fellows.

It is sad to realize that if the gentleman in your Nov. 19 editorial, "Lost, Then Found," had Alzheimer's, cancer or Parkinson's, we would not stand for this: homelessness and assured death to our brothers. But since this person has a mental illness or an addiction, we view him as unworthy of our compassion and, most important, our money, time and resources. Again, I will sing the mantra of most mental health professionals: Mental illness and addiction are not character traits. They are diseases.

Mental illness and addiction can impair the client's ability to at times even recognize, let alone care about, the need for help. Some illnesses, like dementia and psychosis, can lead to a client mistrusting and even fearing any help from others. Some say the mentally ill choose the streets over a shelter. Isn't it obvious--the faulty thinking of this rationalization? Common sense and decency should be enough.

The multitude of life challenges and illnesses of the gentleman referred to in your editorial could have been helped; it did not have to end that way. We are not powerless; the solutions are within our reach. These illnesses were not their choice.

Jody L. Forter

Los Angeles

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As a physician involved in the medical care of a large number of homeless persons, I wish to express my appreciation of The Times' outstanding Nov. 18 editorial on homelessness ("Fix the 'Pickle Factory' "). The Times should also be aware of the outstanding efforts of the Department of Veterans Affairs and, in particular, the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System to deal with homelessness among our nation's veterans. The VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System is involved in many innovative community partnerships to improve the lives of homeless veterans, including a unique relationship with the L.A. County sheriff and jail. The excellent outcomes of these programs are well worth reporting to your readers.

Dean C. Norman MD

Los Angeles

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