Monday, November 5, 2007

Mentally Ill, Homeless Bad Signs Ahead

CW Nevius reports a female police officer was attacked by a mentally ill homeless man known as the "the Sign Guy," described as a disheveled, shirtless street person who had been camped out at the edge of Justin Herman Plaza for months.

"Rick," as he was known in the area, wrote oddball phrases on his bare chest and festooned the trees in front of the shops with cardboard placards with outlandish messages. Some of the signs were gibberish and some, like the message below make pedestrians nervous.

"No talking! Just give me money."

Onlookers said at first when the officer approached, the man appeared to be mellow and cooperative. But, without warning, when he reached down to get something from his bag, he came up swinging.

Police spokesman Sgt. Steve Mannina says:

"He struck her in the face. She fell, and he got on top of her and continued to strike her."

Luckily, a passer-by jumped in and pulled the man off. More police arrived and arrested Richard Jaworski, 44, who had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court. In fact, he'd recently been in jail for a six-month sentence after an incident in January. His crime that time? Punching a police officer.

While Old school Progressives would have you question our right to challenge the rights of the mentally ill street people, New School Liberals offer a solution – Laura’s Law.

Three years ago, Gov. Gray Davis signed landmark legislation to help ensure outpatient treatment for seriously mentally ill people who pose a danger to themselves or others.

Assembly Bill 1421 became known as "Laura's Law," after Laura Wilcox, a 19-year-old college student from Nevada County who was among three people shot to death on Jan. 10, 2001, by 41-year-old Scott Harlan Thorpe. He was suffering from delusional paranoia and was convinced the FBI was trying to poison his food. Thorpe had resisted his family's efforts to get him into treatment.

Wilcox, a sophomore at Haverford College, was working as a receptionist at Nevada City's public mental-health clinic during her Christmas break when Thorpe's paranoia turned homicidal. That tragedy helped prompt California legislators to finally take steps toward updating laws that had made it virtually impossible to force dangerously mental ill people into a structured outpatient treatment.

Regrettably, Laura's Law has not been given a fair chance to work.

One of the provisions of the bill, the subject of years of contention in the state Capitol, left it to the counties to see that the law was carried out. It also gave them a giant escape clause to avoid the issue in lean times: Under AB1421, a county must certify that it has not implemented Laura's Law at the expense of any voluntary mental-health services.

Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of counties have not been able to summon the money or political will to carry out the author's vision of a structured system to compel seriously mentally ill people -- after consultation with their families and medical professionals, and with court approval -- to take the medications their very condition may prevent them from knowing they need.

One notable exception is Los Angeles County, where a pilot program has helped steer patients -- many of them homeless -- into supervised outpatient treatment programs.

Asked why San Francisco has yet to act on Laura's Law, especially in view of the relation between untreated mental illness and homelessness, Mayor Gavin Newsom acknowledged that he "dropped the ball on that" amid fiscal stresses and other pressing matters. But Newsom added that it was "something I was committed to early on" and he vowed to make its implementation a City Hall priority.

Apparently, daily commuters from the ferry felt uneasy about having to walk through a gantlet of signs each morning and evening. Regulars in the area expressed an increasing anxiety over the last two weeks and a longtime tabletop jewelry salesman in the plaza Sign-Guy said the Sign Guy’s behavior was “getting really crazy."

Can anything be done?

Yes, Gavin Newsom needs to overcome the obvious "institutional resistance" challenge specific to San Francisco as well as Anytown's obsticle - money! He can start by challenging the politics-as-usual culture through educational campaigns targeting the public and cloakroom politicking private business.

Quantify the cost of the status quo, ranging from quality-of-life to life itself. Put a price tag on it and sell police, social services, etc!

The time to write your mayor is now. You want Clean, Safe sidewalks and he needs political equity that can scale over four years to win a bigger office far outside The City limits and infinitely more conservative.

In other words, Gavin's 78% approval ratings here are worthless there. Believe me, the exchange rate for "Same Sex Marriages' alone could leae him bankrupt.

Without a compelling story ala Rudy Giuliani’s 911 and crime fighting fetes, Newsom will be hard pressed to cash in as a Governor or Senator.

This is no revelation to the Newsom camp. They they know what’s at stake in four years and need your help right now, right here – write him!

Mayor Gavin Newsom
4104 24th Street #766
San Francisco, CA 94114
Phone: 1 (415) 351-0359

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