Drop-In Center by Kelley Weiss/KXJZ News
California’s budget crunch is trickling down to counties around the state. Last week - because of state funding losses - Sacramento County cut more than a million dollars from mental health services.
They’re called Consumer Self Help Centers or “drop-in” centers and often serve the homeless. People with mental illness can stop by for lunch, group therapy sessions or to just hang out in a safe place. The North Sacramento center is in a house in a residential neighborhood. Many people who come here spend a lot of time out on the big patio in the back. A few guys are shooting pool nearby in the covered game room.
Standing off to the side is Randy, who says he comes by several times a week.
“You know it’s really good that we have centers like this to help the homeless people, or any kind of people, that needs group therapy that keeps them away from street things.”
On Friday, the North Sacramento center will shut down. One in South Sacramento is also closing. It’s difficult news for people like Billy. He’s homeless and says he’s stopped using drugs since he began coming here.
“I’m kind of upset about it; a lot of people are because it’s been there for us. I don’t know, you know, it’s too bad that it is closing.”
Katherine Brennan works at the North Sacramento location that serves about 25 people a day.
“We do provide food and we sometimes provide the only meal that a person has in a day, and we sometimes provide the only shower that a person has in a week, or the laundry service, or the peer support and it’s going to hurt.”
Other facilities that serve the mentally ill in Sacramento County are feeling the impact of the budget cuts as well. Halcyon Place on Stockton Boulevard used to be a motel, but now it houses homeless people with severe mental illness. The facility had been run by Volunteers of America for more than a decade but they now have lost their contract. Current staff, including Juanita Daniel who runs Halcyon Place, must leave before the end of the year to make way for whoever takes over.
"I’ve tried to work with our residents to let them know that some good people are going to come. And I’ve watched three of them cry.”
Daniel says under the cuts, there will no longer be around the clock staffing for the facility’s nearly two dozen residents. She worries the disruption will result in some of them ending up back on the streets.
“It’s unsettling to think they’ll be out there again. This one man I couldn’t place him in a motel, motel’s wouldn’t take him, he would disassemble the plumbing, he got off his meds, he would damage things, got in fights, got involved with drugs, he’s been clean and sober since he's been here.”
One Halcyon Place resident is Bobby who before spent his time wandering the streets with untreated schizophrenia. He doesn’t want to go back.
“I hate the street, I hate the street, walking, walking on the sidewalk is hard on my feet.”
Scaling back or losing programs is a reality across the county. Leland Tom is the mental health services director for Sacramento County. He says it’s one of the worst situations he’s seen in years.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to accommodate any individuals or families who may be in need of mental health services, but at this point we’re going to be challenged to do so.”
What makes it worse, he says, is that these latest cuts are in addition to a five million dollar mental health reduction in June. Tom says other support programs are taking a hit too and children’s services as well as probation and substance abuse programs for the mentally ill. When this happens he says it can be devastating.
“The fear is that they will have relapses and move back into crisis where they will end up back in needing acute psychiatric care, possibly incarceration or using the emergency rooms more.”
Tom says all of that ends up costing more money in the long run. As for the near future, Tom expects more cuts this year with the slumping economy and the state budget crisis. He says this is happening in counties across the state and as demand increases people in need are finding fewer places to get help.