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Mentally Ill Lack Housing

For many of Ventura County's disabled, jail is now the chief shelter, grand jurors say.

May 26, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Housing for Ventura County's mentally ill continues to dwindle and the jails have become their largest single provider of shelter, according to a new grand jury report.

The report, issued last week, says about 12,000 adults ages 18 to 64 with severe and persistent mental illness live in the county. Most are indigent or low-income and many are homeless, it said.

But while housing for the mentally ill emerges as a growing concern, the list of facilities gets shorter and shorter, and the county has not met its goals to alleviate the problem.

A plan designed to develop housing for an additional 500 mentally ill residents by 2006 is falling short. In fact, there is less housing for mentally ill adults now than when the plan was prepared.

Even when compared to Santa Barbara and Kern counties -- both with lower median household incomes than Ventura County -- the local region lags. Santa Barbara and Kern counties have more than 150 beds for mentally ill adults per 100,000 county residents, while Ventura County has fewer than 40 beds per 100,000 residents, the report stated.

The findings don't surprise local advocates for the mentally ill, who for years have tried to shed light on the housing shortage. But they wonder how much can be done in these lean economic times.

"Unfortunately, these programs all cost money, and this is a bad time to develop programs when the state is cutting mental health" funding, said Clyde Reynolds, executive director of the Turning Point Foundation, a local nonprofit that provides support services to the mentally ill. "In all fairness, it's important to say the [Behavioral Health] Department is working very hard on these goals."

The grand jury report recommends that the Behavioral Health Department promote group homes and reverse the loss of board-and-care homes in the county. It also said that county officials should develop a locked facility for long-term patient care and a crisis house, among other recommendations.

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