By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
City Council asked to urge county to adopt Lauras Law
Of the 1,700 to 2,000 homeless persons in Stanislaus County, about half can be classified as mentally ill. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

Laura's Law should be adopted in Stanislaus County, a care provider in Ceres told the Ceres City Council last week as he called on its support for its implementation here.

Stanislaus County is studying the law and its impact on services and the budget. The final decision rests with the Board of Supervisors, but Lonnie Davis, owner of Davis Guest Home on Hatch Road, asked the council to write a letter of support to implement Laura's Law.

Laura's Law was signed into law by then Gov. Gray Davis in 2002 after mental health worker Laura Wilcox was killed by a man who refused psychiatric treatment. The law enables counties to seek court-ordered Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) for people with serious mental disorders. Seventeen counties in the state have chosen to create Laura's Law treatment programs for residents with a history of not complying with mental health treatment.

Davis said of the 1,700 to 2,000 homeless persons in Stanislaus County, about half can be classified as mentally ill. About half of that group "really don't get it that they are sick."

"We see them all the time," said Davis. "There's folks that are jumping in front of traffic, they're aggressively panhandling in our community. We see a lot of folks who are really seriously mentally ill. You're never going to talk them into treatment. They don't get it. They don't believe that they're sick."

He explained that the law allows for intervention for treatment through a petition filed in a court with a judge determining treatment after a hearing.

Davis said treatment is key to stabilizing most mentally ill. He said David Guest Home cares for 185 chronically mentally ill residents, of which five percent would take medication if they weren't supervised on a daily basis, he said.

"Without that medication, my clients would be right out there in the street causing disruption. If they were not receiving psychotropic medications, I couldn't take care of them."

He feels "passionate custodial care is the answer."

Society did more institutionalization of mentally ill in the 1950s. In 1955 the nation had about 500,000 mentally ill housed in institutions. In 2005 that number was less than 50,000. Davis said most mentally ill are on the streets or in jail.

"It costs $47,000 a year to keep somebody in jail," he told the council.

He said Doctors Behavioral Health Center on Claus Road doesn't hold onto people long. Those service costs $1,500 per day.

Nevada and Orange counties have "put teeth" into their Laura's Law programs, Davis said.

"This is part of the answer. There's about 400 people out there on our streets that meet this description and if something isn't done - they're not going to volunteer for treatment - and they'll continue to flip through DBCH at the tune of fifteen hundred bucks a day and be release back out on the street. It's not uncommon for people to go through that process multiple times in a year and it really degrades the community."

He added that family members are often unable to get their mentally ill loved ones in for treatment because a criteria has to be met.

"In this country we've made mental illness a civil right and so you can't provide care for individuals because there's this concern for violating their civil rights."

Other states have similar laws, named for victims killed by mentally ill persons. New York passed its Kendra's Law.

Rhonda Allen, a member of the Homeless Action Council and an advocate for National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), said family members are desperate to get treatment for their adult relatives who are mentally ill.

"Once a person is over 18, an adult, they can choose if they're going to get help, get treated or not and family members have nothing to say about it," said Allen.

She said the law mandates treatment for those in denial.

"There is no other tool available if we do not enact Laura's Law," said Allen.

She insists that the program will save the county money by reducing incarceration, police time and hospitalization.

"The smallest percentage of our mentally ill in our community are costing us the majority of our expenses, taxpayer dollars. Our monies are being wasted right now. These 5150 holds, they send them over to DBHC and they're out the next day. It's doing no good. It is completely a waste of money. If we quit doing that we have immediate cost savings."

She said the law would also reduce the burden on police attending to problems caused by mentally ill. Allen was told by one officer than 30 percent of his day was taken up with matters relating to mentally ill persons.

"They are not mental health clinicians and we are expecting them to do what they were never trained to do. And the other thing is, do we really want mentally ill people housed in jail? Because that where most of them are."

She commented that not all of the county's homelessness would cease but "it will take the worst, the most severely psychotic off the streets and get them help. I think that's worth something."

Laura's Law was crafted in 2002 but only used by counties for eight years.