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Prop. 63 badly needed

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Posted: Wednesday, October 27, 2004 10:00 pm

There are 16 propositions on the November ballot, each of which merits serious reflection.

I have a particular interest in the social blight of homelessness generated by psychological brain dysfunction underlying mental illness or impairment.

Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, wrote Proposition 63, an initiative that would tax the super wealthy to provide mental health care to those who can't afford it. The state made a promise 36 years ago, when it closed down the state psychiatric hospitals, to create programs and supportive housing to serve the needs of mentally ill people in their own communities. It was a great humanitarian idea that never came to fruition.

The Legislature has yet to provide funding for treatment and housing programs for the mentally ill. The consequences of not treating the mentally ill are obvious and tragic: homelessness, drug addiction, domestic violence, crime, teen age dropouts and pregnancies, child abuse and neglect.

According to psychiatrist Michael Freeman, 90 percent of what we know about the brain has been discovered in the past 10 years. He said, "So much of mental illness is now treatable with medication and therapy. We know what to do for people but we don't have the delivery system to do it." Despite everything we know, we still separate the world's ills into compartments -- physical ills, mental ills, social ills, cultural ills -- as if one has nothing to do with the others. We cannot solve homelessness without first solving the underlying psychosis or depression or addiction.

We can't heal families without first healing the abusive, unstable parent. Proposition 63 isn't a perfect law that will whisk all the suffering off our streets. But it is an essential, logical step not only for making good on a three decades old promise, but also to bring us closer to the day when all people with mental illnesses can experience mental health, and enjoy normal, happy lives.

Reid Cerney




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