Drawing a crowd of nearly 100 people, community members rallied on the steps of City Hall yesterday in protest of proposed budget cuts to programs that care for the mentally ill.
Clad in red and holding signs, members from the Association of Local Leaders for Community Mental Health – a non-profit organization that goes by ALL 4 CMH and is dedicated to providing housing, counseling and other services to the mentally ill – spoke against the proposed cuts. The main proposal, scheduled for review by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors for next Tuesday, would cut $6 million from community-based programs and $2.7 million from county run mental health clinics. Opponents estimate that the loss of funding could cause 800 to 1,000 mentally ill patients to become homeless.
Family Services Agency Executive Director Bill Batty said his most critical concern lies in housing opportunities for the mentally ill. He said that mental health facilities currently receive two percent of their budget from the Santa Barbara County government compared to the standard 6 percent in other counties.
Batty said he believes additional cuts are unfair.
“I don’t understand why they chose to implement this plan,” Batty said. “We’re dedicated to reversing the plan – to more funding. Our group proposed a concept on how we can save [but it was] never discussed.”
Diane Young, a resident of Sanctuary Psychiatric Services’ housing facilities, said that housing for the mentally ill is crucial to a patient’s progress and stability.
“For many of us this is the first stable home we’ve had in decades,” Young said. “Tell us how we will get through this crisis if we are no longer able to live in our apartments.”
According to Casa Esperanza Homeless Center Executive Director Michael Foley, about 2.6 percent of all adults living in Santa Barbara County have a mental illness. He also said that if the cut is approved, a huge number of those patients currently dependent upon non-profit assistance could become part of the homeless population.
“There are nearly 8,000 people that live with a serious and persistent mental illness [in Santa Barbara County],” Foley said. “Every time there’s a massive deficit, you find cuts to the most helpless people. [County leaders] need to decide that mental health matters. Mental health is public safety.”
Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum said that if the homeless population increases as the result of the budget cuts, jails may become overcrowded as well.
“[When] city police officers pick up a transient, [they] take them to their doctors… but now they can’t,” Blum said. “When county budget goes awry, we’re going to have to face the consequences.”
The ALL 4 CMH will host a community Mental Health Rally this Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. in Alameda Park to discuss how to save mental health services in Santa Barbara County. The rally will include guest speakers, music and refreshments. For more information and petitions against the proposal, visit www.savementalhealth.org.