If the Fourth of July fireworks at Tustin High School last week were not enough for you, try coming to this Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The topic of discussion, of course, will be the growing community of homeless living next to the Tustin Library. I’d compare it to the tent camp along the Santa Ana Riverbed except it isnt nearly that size – or that filthy.
The camp has become a source of concern, discussion and -in some cases- entertainment on the local website, Nextdoor.com, a sort of local email/blog where anyone can start a discussion on just about anything they like. Over two dozen people have contributed over 300 comments on the homeless encampment alone.
It all started several months ago when the Tustin Branch Library was suddenly shuttered for repairs after suffering massive water damage. Although officials said the water damage was minimal and the library would re-open in a few week, it remains shuttered two and a half months later. The library itself is a county issue and the city has little power to move things along.
Shortly after the closure, a few homeless began hanging out in the area. With no one to bother them, they eventually set up a dozen tents, mostly in the plaza next to the library, and remained low key. With little traffic in the area, they went pretty much unnoticed on a daily basis.
That all changed about a month ago when citizens came, en mass, to the June 20th city council meeting to ask the city what they planned to do about it. The city council listened to concerns but was unable to address the situation because the subject wasn’t on the agenda.
Surprisingly, the city is responding with restraint. City Manager Jeff Parker said that a solution would be to declare the area around the library a city park, allowing police to arrest campers. “But, that doesn’t seem morally appropriate.” We agree, of course, as it won’t solve the problem. The city recently put a “Homelessness” button on the front page of their website.
Tustin has never had a very large homeless population (the staff report pegs it at two dozen). Prior to the library encampment, most of them hung around Peppertree Park and the Old Town area. Closing down the encampment will just push them back onto the streets and into our neighborhoods. The city claims they regularly try to provide comprehensive services but, frankly, most of the homeless camped there (yes, I stopped by and dropped of water on a hot day) are not interested in services or alternatives to their lifestyle.
For the time being, the encampment may be the best way to handle the situation. At the very least, the homeless are pretty much in one location. Concerns over drug and alcohol use are minimal, although arrests for both have been made. The police check the area regularly and, unlike the Santa Ana Riverbed encampment, the place is clean – I daresay, neat and tidy. Some residents have opined that moving them to an industrial area and providing sanitary services would solve the problem. The trouble is, the homeless may not agree. And contrary to what some would like, they can’t just be rounded up and shipped out.
In any case, if you are one of the two dozen or so folks who have made their feelings known on the neighborhood blog, you will have the opportunity to address our city council on the matter this Tuesday at 7pm. You may want to get there early and, if you forget your water, you can probably bum a bottle from one of the homeless camped out back.
West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.
The list is much bigger, of course. From a news blog at ABC, I count 14 school shootings since 1997. That is only the ones that made the news. Everyone from Piers Morgan to The Liberal OC’s Dan Chmielewski have chimed in on the subject (sorry, Dan, but you are wrong) of gun control. The Brady Bunch could not get their same, tired, message out once again any faster than they did. As expected, the NRA circled their wagons around the 2nd Amendment. The truth is, we have thousands of gun control laws on the books and it did not stop this tragedy (or any other involving guns) from happening. Face it, laws are designed to be reactive. When was the last time you heard a would be criminal or, in this case, nut-job say, “Maybe I shouldn’t kill that person because I might get the death penalty.” I’ve been in law enforcement for over 20 years and have yet to hear it. So, maybe our focus is wrong. You see, the perpetrators of these heinous crimes all have another thing in common. They are all deeply troubled and mentally ill.
Maybe that is where we should focus our discussions.
Mental illness has taken a back seat to nearly every other social issue these days. Yet, there has been a significant increase in the number of people who have been diagnosed with serious mental illness. More than 20 million people suffer a mood disorder such as bipolar and depressive disorder. Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability of kids and young adults. Schizophrenia, which usually manifests itself in men in their late teens and women in their early thirties, affects 1.1 percent of the adult population. And, PTSD is a growing disorder among not just our returning troops but also regular folks who have suffered serious trauma and violent incidents such as rape and assault.
Many of our homeless who, in this county, we turn a blind eye to, suffer debilitating mental illness. Lacking services to assist them, they wander the streets, are arrested, suffer indignities and scare the hell out of most “regular” people who encounter them. So, what do we do? We cut services to them, of course. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, services are often unavailable or inaccessible for those who need them most. According to them one in ten children live with a serous mental disorder. Yet, the recession (or depression if you see it as I do) has cut spending on mental health services by $1.8 billion dollars in 2011 with deeper cuts over the past year.
Communities pay a high price for cuts of this magnitude. Rather than saving states and communities money, these cuts to services simply shift financial responsibility to emergency rooms, community hospitals, law enforcement agencies, correctional facilities and homeless shelters.
Massive cuts to mental health services also potentially impact public safety. As a whole, people living with serious mental illness are no more violent than the rest of the population. In fact, it is well documented that these individuals are far more frequently the victims of violence than the perpetrators of violent acts.
However, the risks of violence among a small subset of individuals may increase when appropriate treatment and supports are not available. The use of alcohol or drugs as a form of self medication can also increase these risks.
I couldn’t agree more. California, which likes to think of itself as the social consciousness of the West, cut more than $587 million dollars in 2011 from the budget. That is the most of any state in the union. Worse, since then-governor Ronald Reagan closed the hospitals and cast the mentally ill onto the streets, our mental health services have been some of the worst in the nation. Taking bad to worse via a 16 percent drop in spending at a time when mental health services are suffering a significant increase in demand… well, you get the picture.
While you mull over whether to blame inadequate gun laws, even though there are thousands on the books, or whether to blame mental health or, as Mike Huckabee did, God, say a prayer to whomever your God is for the families who have suffered from this tragic loss. Keep your family safe. No one else will do it for you. The police have no obligation to the individual so don’t look toward them. It is up to you and your neighbors to keep each other safe. In this case, you are your brother’s keeper.
And, ask why on earth our so-called leaders are cutting spending to programs that are necessary now, more than ever.
Our friend, Tyron Jackson, is hosting another event to bring our community together in this time of tragedy. For Tyron, like many of us, it is a time of rememberance, compassion and renewal. He has invited everyone to the “My Kid Is Special! Community Prayer Vigil” on December 17, 2012 from 5:30-6:30 PM at the Tustin Community Center, 300 Centennial Way, Tustin, CA.
On Friday December 14th 2012, our hearts were shattered when the news broke that students and teachers were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut.
Join us on Monday December 17th 5:30-6:30 p.m at the Tustin Community Center as the community comes together to pray for the victims and families of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Also join us as we Encourage, Inspire, Motivate and remind our youth, our children, our students that they are SPECIAL and we LOVE them!
There won’t be any discussions of gun control or mental health. Just our community telling the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School how much we care and how much we are thinking of them in their time of need.