Families of Mentally Ill Question Supervisors in Wake of Police Beating

The beating death of Kelly Thomas by Fullerton Police has forced a renewed focus on homelessness and mental health outreach among Orange County supervisors.

On Tuesday more than two dozen relatives of mentally ill persons challenged supervisors to make better use of state mental health funds, provided under Proposition 63, and deliver services to the mentally ill living on the streets.

Supervisors also asked staff to continue their investigation of providing a year-round homeless shelter in Orange County.

The relatives spent the entire day at the meeting, commenting on mental health and waiting until nearly 5 p.m. to ask supervisors to enact Laura's Law, a 2002 measure that makes it easier for families to get forced treatment for relatives with severe mental illnesses.

Thomas's father, Ron Thomas, has said that his son's homelessness stemmed from his inability to regularly take his medication.

Supervisors reacted to the calls from advocates Tuesday by asking Health Care Agency officials to report within 30 days on how to implement Laura's Law in Orange County.

Only two counties in California — Los Angeles and Nevada — have implemented Laura's Law. Orange County officials will spend the next month studying how those counties' programs, said Mark Refowitz, deputy director of the Health Care Agency.

Supervisor John Moorlach went so far as to ask family members of mentally ill people why it had taken them so long to show up. Moorlach said he had never heard about Laura's Law in his five years on the board.

Family members noted that dealing with mental illness is not easy and that social stigmas have made them reluctant to approach officials. One woman told Moorlach that both sides — families and elected officials — have each been living in their own bubbles.

Some officials told supervisors that the combination of recent budget cuts has made mental health outreach even more difficult.

"A lot of the services we should be providing have been diminished," said Health Care Agency Deputy Director Mark Refowitz. 

— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.

 

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