Two coalitions are sponsoring town hall meetings across Kansas this month to discuss the impact of future state budget cuts.
One of the four meetings will be in Lawrence at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, in the Carnegie Building, 200 W. Ninth St. The others will be in Salina, Pittsburg and Wichita.
The meetings are being organized by the Big Tent Coalition and Kansans for Quality Communities. The Big Tent Coalition is an association of organizations and individual advocates who believe in enhancing choices for Kansans with disabilities, seniors and those with mental illness. Kansans for Quality Communities is a coalition of organizations representing education, health care, people with disabilities, and state workers working to keep Kansas communities strong and healthy.
Both coalitions say they represent Kansans who believe that the quality of communities is at risk of being lowered if the state budget is cut any further than it already has been.
The groups are urging legislators to value the quality services in our state and develop the budget accordingly for 2013 and 2014.
So says the disturbing headline in a USAToday article. This may be old news to some of you, but I'm just catching up from being on vacation for a week, and this was sobering. And, not a surprise, these people, who are over 50, have a 30 percent unemployment rate and a 19 percent homeless rate.
The report was issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a large US government agency that's trying to do something about the 20 million people a year who have substance abuse issues and need treatment, and the 10 million people who aren't getting help because of mental illness.
In a study at mid-size private university, severe mental illness among college students increased from 1997 to 2009, Science Daily reported from last week's American Psychological Association meeting.
"In the last 10 years, a shift in the needs of students seeking counseling services is becoming apparent," said John Guthman, PhD, author of the study and director of student counseling services at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. "University and college counseling services around the country are reporting that the needs of students seeking services are escalating toward more severe psychological problems.
In terms of taxpayer dollars, Robert Gilmore might be Lawrence’s most expensive person. Mentally ill patient costing taxpayers
A well-known homeless man in Lawrence is costing local taxpayers. Robert Gilmore has cost the city about $25,000 each year for the past 10 years in jail and arrest costs. Enlarge video
Gilmore, 52, who can frequently be seen in downtown Lawrence wearing a robe or bedsheet and socks on his hands, has cost taxpayers $250,000 over the past decade.
The Journal-World and 6News tracked Gilmore’s arrest record and time he has spent in Douglas County Jail since 2000. Gilmore’s frequent encounters with the local criminal justice system — which often include offenses such as illegal camping and blocking traffic — have led to 106 arrests and the equivalent of about four and a half years spent in jail over the past 10 years.
Jail costs alone for Gilmore have topped $166,000 for the 1,617 days he’s spent there, and costs per arrest — based on national estimates of between $500 and $1,000 for minor offenses — place Gilmore’s per-year cost to taxpayers at around $25,000.
In times of city budget cuts, furloughs and layoffs, is there a cheaper — and more effective — way to deal with Gilmore?
‘Part of Lawrence’
Gilmore, who sometimes goes by “Simon,” has been profiled in the Journal-World several times, following arrests and unsuccessful efforts by social service agencies to help him.
Friends from the School of the Ozarks, where Gilmore went to college in the 1970s, have described him as “brilliant,” though he exhibited odd behaviors back then. Previous Journal-World articles state that Gilmore’s mother said he received a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia in childhood, and that Gilmore has spent time in psychiatric facilities.
Approached in downtown Lawrence, Gilmore declined to talk with the Journal-World.
Whether marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, or sleeping in a downtown alley, Gilmore has been a well-known figure in the community for years.
“It’s just part of Lawrence,” said Sgt. Bill Cory, spokesman for the Lawrence Police Department.
Despite Gilmore’s frequent run-ins with authorities, Cory said Lawrence police have no particular protocol when they respond to Gilmore.
He commits a crime, such as blocking a street, and police arrest him. Sometimes, Gilmore is charged with additional offenses resulting from the arrest, such as obstructing justice or resisting arrest.
Gilmore gets booked into Douglas County Jail, serves his time and is released. Only to be arrested again.
It’s a cycle that benefits no one and costs taxpayers, said Rick Cagan, executive director of the Kansas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“It’s not working for him and it’s not working for others,” Cagan said. “I don’t know why the city and county aren’t doing more.”
Dave Corliss, Lawrence city manager, said he wasn’t surprised to hear taxpayers’ yearly cost for Gilmore.
“I think it more disappoints me,” Corliss said, and the city has explored options for a better solution for Gilmore.
“The city has been trying to facilitate some of those discussions,” Corliss said.
But those discussions have not led to alternative housing options, and Corliss said Gilmore has at times declined private housing services.
Former Lawrence Mayor Boog Highberger said that he’s been providing legal representation for Gilmore, but declined to comment on his case.
Lack of resources
Efforts to house hard-to-place individuals such as Gilmore are also hamstrung by a lack of resources, said Shannon Murphy, who runs Douglas County Jail’s re-entry program. While she couldn’t speak directly about a particular case, Murphy said a lack of housing for the mentally ill remains a huge gap for inmates returning into the community.
“There’s not a lot of options,” she said. “People end up on the street or at the shelter.”
Murphy said the statistics show that Gilmore is not alone in his cycle of trips to Douglas County Jail.
In 2009, 43 percent of inmates booked into the jail were there for the second time in a year, and 900 people accounted for the more than 2,400 jail bookings in 2009.
The numbers highlight a trend across the country as mental health funding gets slashed from state budget deficits, said Dave Johnson, CEO at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.
“We’re just criminalizing mental health care,” Johnson said. At Bert Nash, Johnson’s budget has been cut $1.5 million, and the agency has had to eliminate about 5 percent of its work force.
The cuts to mental health funding will lead to more expensive treatment — in the criminal justice system, he said.
“It’s done supposedly as a means to deal with budget problems, but it’s just pushing the cost somewhere else.”
A national housing program, Housing First, could provide a solution for Gilmore’s situation, said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The program, modeled in larger communities across the country, works on the philosophy that it’s easier to address mental health and substance abuse issues when someone first has a home.
“Stability of a place to live makes services more effective,” Roman said.
Housing First programs provide free housing for chronically homeless people, then service providers slowly work to address people’s other issues.
The key, said Roman, is to offer housing with as few conditions as possible.
“They reject housing over time because it has strings,” she said.
National programs have been shown to reduce costs over time for the hard-to-place homeless, but Roman said that even if the costs were equal, such programs make sense for people such as Gilmore.
“We’re spending $25,000 whether we leave him on the street or whether we house him,” she said. “No one thinks it’s a good idea for the public sector to be spending this much money for a bad outcome.”
But giving someone free housing goes against societal norms that people should earn what they have, or that some people choose to be homeless, Johnson said.
“It’s not a person who’s lazy, yet those stereotypes still persist,” he said. “It’s not a choice anybody would really make.”