By The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board
Sep. 10, 2018 | 4:05 AM
Like much of the rest of the nation, California went only halfway toward keeping its promise to improve mental health care. It closed psychiatric hospitals, some of which were really just costly warehouses for the sick rather than modern medical facilities offering effective treatment. But the state didn’t follow through on its commitment to provide better alternatives, like community-based clinics that deliver the treatment and services needed to integrate patients into society, working and living independently where possible.
We can see the result of those half-measures every day. About a third of homeless people in Los Angeles and across the country are on the street because of untreated mental illnesses that prevent them from staying housed or holding down a job.
We’ve begun to make amends, at least of a sort. Fourteen years ago, voters passed Proposition 63, known informally as the millionaires’ tax and more properly as the Mental Health Services Act. It raises billions of dollars for services.
More recently, Los Angeles voters adopted tax measures to raise money for supportive housing — units that will give homeless people, including those with serious mental health challenges, the opportunity for dignified and independent living while receiving the medical care and services they need to hold their illnesses at bay and stay off the streets.
These are fine programs, but if they’re all we’ve got they will be futile. The ranks of mentally ill homeless Californians are constantly being replenished. As fast as we can lead the sick and suffering into homes, they are replaced on the street by new generations of people whose mental illnesses were left undiagnosed or untreated at an early stage, when they still could have been held in check. If only California also had funding for that — for prevention, diagnosis, intervention and treatment early enough that patients’ illnesses do not progress to the point where they lose the ability to lead independent lives.
Actually, we do have the funding. The tragedy is that we haven’t spent it wisely, or in many cases haven’t spent it at all.
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