Rumor has it that when Modesto City Councilmember Kristi Ah You made a public plea for Laura’s Law earlier this month, it ruffled a lot of feathers. Apparently some of our elected officials still believe that there’s no point in trying to help people who don’t want help, even when they’re severely mentally ill.
But when it comes to those who are mentally ill, the whole issue of “wanting help” is bogus. The clinical term for mentally ill people who don’t want help is “anosognosia.” Loosely defined, it describes the condition of being sick while thinking you’re well. Some local experts estimate up to four out of ten homeless people are mentally ill. Most of those sick people think they’re perfectly sane.
Laura’s Law is strictly limited to mentally ill people with a documented history of psychiatric hospitalization and repeated failure to show improvement without assistance. In the vast majority of cases, those who qualify for court-ordered treatment under Laura’s Law also have a history of violence toward others and/or harm to themselves.
Homeless people who scream, curse, and brandish sticks and steel rods, are obvious candidates for evaluation under Laura’s Law. At present, such people are often given jail time, which almost always exacerbates their illness. After a short sentence, they’re released, rejoin the homeless population, and the cycle begins all over again, until they cause harm severe enough to result in a long prison sentence.
Under Laura’s Law, these mentally ill people have a far better chance of moving from homelessness to assisted living, where they would be less threatening to everyone, including themselves.
Lonny Davis is one of our most knowledgeable local experts on the mentally ill. He’s had decades of experience with mentally ill homeless people through the family business, which operates assisted living facilities.
Davis is a staunch supporter of Laura’s Law. He recently wrote the following:
“I would advocate for the embracing of ‘Laura’s Law.’ This law is presently enforced in several California counties and allows for court-ordered outpatient treatment. If implemented, it could have the effect of limiting the cycle of multiple hospitalizations which return individuals into at-risk environments (homelessness) without addressing their illness with strategies which would benefit them (many of these individuals desperately need compassionate custodial care).”
Anyone familiar with the large numbers of mentally ill homeless people soon realizes even Laura’s Law is only a tiny step forward toward reducing the manifold harms of homelessness. The majority of mentally ill homeless people live in shadows, bedeviled by their own private demons and causing harm only by their presence, which often provokes jeers and harassment from people who don’t understand their plight. Though they need help, they usually don’t qualify for Laura’s Law for the simple reason they aren’t violent.
But Laura’s Law would reduce the harm and danger brought about by the most extreme cases of mentally ill people experiencing homelessness. It would represent a beginning step for a region that has been far too passive in addressing the escalating emergency of more and more sick people on our streets and in our parks. It has to be implemented by county supervisors, who need to hear from their constituents how important it is to enact Laura’s Law now.
Gayle petersen says
I whole heartedly support this. I just lost a dear cousin due to his mental condition and his being homeless. He had money but didn’t know it due to his mental state and was staying at the Godpel Mission poor Salvation Army or streets. When he died he had $13,000 in the bank.
When he was admitted to the hospital they called me and our family got to spend his last days with him. It was too late to help him. So very sad. We would have loved help for him.
Eric Caine says
So many of the mentally ill don’t even have family assistance as it’s too hard to supervise them 24/7 and they wander off, refuse their meds, and oftentimes get taken advantage of by predators just waiting for an easy victim.
MD Mason says
Hello Mr. Caine, I was wondering if you could elaborate on the rumours of backlash to the Laura’s Law proposal? I haven’t seen any real opposition to the idea.
Eric Caine says
I heard of the rumors from people who were at the meeting and also from people who don’t want to be named. David Lambert has said on Facebook he witnessed some of the backlash first hand. If you have been in our region long enough, you will understand just how brave Kristi is. Lots of our leaders keep their opinions behind closed doors.
Chyril Turner says
Thank you, Eric Caine, for this very important article. More people need information about the percentage of people without shelter who have severe mental illness and what can be done to help them obtain these life saving services. Laura’s Law is a valuable step in the right direction. I urge each person reading this article to click on the Laura’s Law link to become more informed and follow the links to provide support for this law. Kristi Ah You is definitely courageous!
Eric Caine says
Big thanks to Councilmember Ah You and Mr. Davis for stepping up on this issue. Without them, no story.
Mary Freeman says
Kristi thank you for being the conscience of your city. I think this would be a project that would also allow our community to feel as though they have a hand in helping to fix this problem in Modesto. Now the struggle will be getting the general population on board to help. Mst folks are quick to criticize but slow to act. Maybe we can work towards more involvement.
Mary Freeman I need your help. I am a perfect example and need to tell you what is going on
Brandy chapman says
My name is Brandy Chapman and I am desperately looking for my mother and have been for years. My mom lost custody of me when I was 12 years old to my father and moved to Modesto with my little sister’s so that she did not get them taken also. I am 35 years old now, and still love my mom as much if not more as I did then. My mom left my little sister’s at school one day and never picked them up, nobody has ever heard from her since then. My sister’s recall that days before my mom disappeared she was saying and doing the strangest things. She thought things that was not true. My mom had a very rough life,rough is speaking very lightly. At that time she had an undiagnosed mental illness and self medicated with drugs and alcohol. I literally Google my mom’s name every other day, my side of the family has all thought she was dead, but I knew she was not. 3 weeks ago my mother went to jail in Redding California, as soon as I found out I got on a plane from Oklahoma in hopes to finally find her. Needless to say that did not happen. Search parties took me to every homeless camp in Redding, cottonwood, and Anderson. All I found out was everything I have always expected. Her mental illness is so severe that she does not remember who her kids are, she knows she wants to get to Oklahoma but quickly forgets. What is my mom has been trying to get to Oklahoma for 23 years but her mental illness has kept that from happening? What if my mom has hep c and needs a kidney and cannot get to the only person who would just give her one because of her mental illness? I ran into people who say my mom was heading to Modesto. Any suggestions on how I can find her? Any suggestions on what my next move should be?
This is absolutely perfect Kristi this just brought tears to my eyes that theres someone that gets it. Thank you thank you thank you for caring you r the best! God bless you