The El Paso Times has been running a series of stories investigating the "living conditions and health care of people with mental illness in Texas, including the El Paso area." Today comes the paper's third part in the series, which deals with the rapid increase in the number of group homes for the mentally ill--and it begins with a scene set not in El Paso, but in Oak Cliff. The story bases a number of its conclusions on information provided by the Dallas police and Advocacy, Inc., an Austin-based non-profit that protects the rights of the mentally ill.
And it says that many residents of unlicensed group homes in Oak Cliff "roam the streets at all hours, fall asleep on park benches and bus stops, often become robbery victims, sometimes get into brawls and generally find themselves in harm's way." According to DPD Lietenant Kimberly Stratman, in Oak Cliff alone "there are at least a dozen unlicensed group homes," some with as many as 15 residents. Writes Brandi Grissom in the paper:
"The problem as Lt. Stratman sees it is not that her officers have to deal with sick people who are in crisis. That's their job.
What makes her angry is that people struggling to survive, who need supervision and support, are paying group home owners for safe places to stay, but instead receive substandard or no care and are forced to live in squalor.
'Where does this money go if the house is in disrepair, it's filthy, they're not fed, they're not bathed, they're not taking their meds? Where is all this money going?' she asked.
Stratman said her officers, who work from 3 p.m. to midnight, either respond to a call from one of those homes or come in contact with a resident about 35 times each week. 'It's low-level crime, but it still requires response from us,' she said.
Ron Cowart in the city of Dallas' crisis intervention unit called the problem bewildering."
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A morning must-read, and certainly better than what I was gonna write about this morning: attending my 20th high school reunion. --Robert Wilonsky