OC officials hold meeting on growing mental health problem

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- A public meeting was held in Santa Ana Friday on the issue of the growing mental illness problem in Orange County.

Larry Smith, a homeless advocate, said he sees what isn't working when it comes to helping mentally ill people on the street.

"They don't have any psychiatrists to actually diagnose, so where do you wind up dumping them? Here," he said.

Similar problems were echoed at the town hall meeting down the street. County officials asked people what they thought about mental health care in the county.

The issue of mental illness gained more prominence after Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old schizophrenic man, died in a run-in with Fullerton police in 2011, which was all caught on surveillance video.

Last year, a grand jury found the county does not have enough psychiatric beds to provide in-patient care to mentally ill people, and it recommended that 1,500 beds are needed.

Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett proposed creating three crisis stabilization centers to provide more beds and supports a bill that would help release money for such services.

"Right now Orange County has less than 100 beds," she said.

She said the $233 million mental health service provides more than 200 programs in the county, but there is still about $70 million sitting in surplus. Others would like to see money spent on more permanent housing for the mentally ill.

County officials said no solution would be announced right away, but the town hall is the first step in finding a way to improve the mental health system.
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