Saturday, November 17, 2007

Regarding: Special Programs Helping Homeless and other People

Sat Night ~ Gracias Brother G.I. Joe ~ I am glad you took the time to respond to this as many times people on the Internet who belong to online groups basically post news articles about current events or items of interest without any real interaction or ~ in our case ~ interdialogue.

Yes, San Francisco is a pretty progressive city and they are really experimenting with some good ideas there for dealing with inner city issues and the core problems that come with the turf.
In a way, a key to the solution is in the problem itself, specifically, homeless people who are suffering from one of an assortment of psycho-social disorders and inventing ways of absorbing their participation in the whole problem-solving process.

A creative community is a collection of agencies, institutions and other vehicles that together form an infrastructure for sustainable growth and natural social development along humanistic lines. It serves the people who live therein.

Working at the Salvation Army Shelter I see first hand rampant mental disorders soawbed by homelessness. It would blow many people away if they witnessed the many manifestations of mental illness that occur at the shelter. Of course, the mental illness is not entirely mental and there is a lot of social-spiritual unrest taking place among the natives, that is, those who are locked into the whole homeless matrix. And it is a real matrix that some cannot unplug themselves out of no matter what color pill they take! ~Blessings, Peta

An Abstract Related to the Article quote in the SF Chronicle Report:
Am J Psychiatry 164:1395-1403, September 2007
doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.06101664
© 2007 American Psychiatric Association

Effectiveness of a Mental Health Court in Reducing Criminal Recidivism and Violence
Dale E. McNiel, Ph.D., and Renée L. Binder, M.D.

OBJECTIVE: In response to the large-scale involvement of people with mental disorders in the criminal justice system, many communities have created specialized mental health courts in recent years. However, little research has been done to evaluate the criminal justice outcomes of such courts. This study evaluated whether a mental health court can reduce the risk of recidivism and violence by people with mental disorders who have been arrested.

METHOD: A retrospective observational design was used to compare the occurrence of new criminal charges for 170 people who entered a mental health court after arrest and 8,067 other adults with mental disorders who were booked into an urban county jail after arrest during the same interval. A matching strategy based on propensity scores was used to adjust analyses for nonrandom selection into mental health court.

RESULTS: Propensity-weighted Cox regression analysis, controlling for other potential confounding variables (demographic characteristics, clinical variables, and criminal history), showed that participation in the mental health court program was associated with longer time without any new criminal charges or new charges for violent crimes. Successful completion of the mental health court program was associated with maintenance of reductions in recidivism and violence after graduates were no longer under supervision of the mental health court.

CONCLUSIONS: The results indicate that a mental health court can reduce recidivism and violence by people with mental disorders who are involved in the criminal justice system.

John Engbeck <> wrote:
The Human aspect and implications of this resound to me. San Francisco seems to offer a unque arena in which humans might evolve... in terms of conscientiousness as well as consciousness!

My own additon, if you will, might be to suggest a voluntary working party detail of non-working persons from the Court system, and elsewhere perhaps, that would be positively formulated, and positively implemented, in which people from the sytem could be involved in City beautification activities.
I am not talking about the orange vest details, however, and I am certain this is hardly an original concept. Just the same, it has such a appeal...especially if creatively engineered for a win-win throughout!

That is what COMMUNITY is all about, perhaps.

"Peter S. Lopez de-Aztlan" <>

Special court in S.F. offers hope and help to those short on both
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Maurice Wilson, running an errand for his boss: "I've mad... Sherry Erlandson at the program's Jitterbug Cafe: "This i... Judge Mary Morgan leads the courtroom in applause for a s...
As debate rages over how to solve San Francisco's seemingly intractable homeless problem, city leaders, academic researchers and even some formerly homeless people themselves say progress is being made every Thursday afternoon inside Department 15 at the city's gloomy Hall of Justice.
For a couple of hours each week, the courtroom fills with dozens of defendants with serious mental illnesses who have been charged with or convicted of crimes ranging from misdemeanor theft to felony assault and robbery. Almost all were homeless or on the brink of living on the streets at the time of their arrests, and many of them struggle with drug or alcohol abuse.

It sounds like a scary scene, like many city residents' worst fears gathered together in one room. But it's surprisingly touching - and according to Superior Court Judge Mary Morgan, who presides over the court, it's "the most hopeful thing happening in the criminal justice system."

On one Thursday not long ago, a bipolar man arrested in March for battery against a BART agent brought his trumpet to court on Morgan's orders and stunned the packed courtroom into silence with his rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

It's not unusual for defendants to approach the bench to present Morgan with a poem, greeting card or artwork they have crafted just for her or to show her the most recent photograph of their children.

Working with a host of city agencies, the court gives the defendants specially designed treatment plans that include case managers to help them get into psychiatric rehabilitation and supportive housing programs, obtain proper medications and find assistance to overcome drug and alcohol abuse. If the defendants successfully complete the program, which usually takes a year or two, their criminal charges often are reduced or wiped from their record.
But maybe more importantly for the defendants, Morgan and others say, these Thursday sessions could be the first time in a long time anybody's paid attention to them - other than spotting them on the streets and quickly scurrying away.

"We have a lot of cases in here. We're busy making sure they're in compliance with their treatment plan and doing well," said Jennifer Johnson, a lawyer with the public defender's office who represents many of the defendants at the court. "It's nice sometimes to stop and listen to what they're interested in - what moves them."

Lisa Lightman, who directs this and other special courts within the San Francisco Superior Court, said defendants often say the best thing about the court is simply getting noticed.

"That moment makes all the difference for them staying in the program," she said. "Sometimes it's the first time they've been heard by an authority figure - they feel recognized."

Recidivism curtailed

Behavioral Health Court works, according to a UC San Francisco study published in September in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The study found that participants in the program, marking its fifth anniversary this month, are far less likely to commit future crimes than mentally ill criminals processed through the traditional justice system.

Data indicate that by 18 months after completion, participants, who at first are required to make weekly court appearances, are 39 percent less likely to be charged with a new offense than mentally ill people in the regular court system. The risk of being charged with a new violent crime was 54 percent lower, the study found.

"The participation appears to enhance public safety - not compromise it," said Dale McNeil, one of the authors of the study.

But not everyone is convinced the court is an answer to San Francisco's homelessness problem.

Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, said it's one more example of the city offering services to homeless people and the mentally ill only after they become part of the criminal justice system. She and other advocates wonder why these well-regarded services aren't as readily available to mentally ill homeless people outside the courts.

"We just don't have enough treatment for everyone who needs it," she said.
One person who has benefited from the Behavioral Health Court is Maurice Chambers Wilson. On one recent Thursday, the 37-year-old approached the bench and told Morgan about his new room in a single-room-occupancy hotel.
"I have the key right here to open the door to my happiness," he told her, waving the little gold-colored key as proof.

"I want you to stay on track and remember how important having a place to live is," Morgan told him before, as she often does, ordering a round of applause for Wilson from the entire courtroom - the burly bailiffs included. (The bailiffs are specially trained to put up with more yelling and other behavior than would be tolerated in traditional courts.)

A challenging clientele

Wilson was a homeless alcoholic struggling with manic depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder when he said he heard voices one night telling him to hurt someone. He hit a stranger walking across Market Street in the Castro and was arrested for felony assault.

He spent several months in jail before being selected for the Behavioral Health Court seven months ago.

When he's not in court on Thursdays, he's likely to pass his days in a dingy building on Market near Fifth Street, which houses Citywide Case Management Forensic Program, the unwieldy name given to the social services component of the court, which is run by UC San Francisco.

There, those participating in the court meet with social workers, join support groups, take classes in art and cooking, play board games and just hang out. If the threat of jail is the stick, this building, which Wilson calls a sanctuary, is the carrot that keeps him and others determined to make it.

"The model of connecting the services to the court does work," said Kathleen Connolly Lacey, program director of Citywide. "There has to be a benefit to people to participate. They work harder than they would if they got straight probation."

She added that the center gives some structure to people who often don't have jobs, aren't in school and aren't raising families.

"They're so highly structured in jail and when they get out, they have nothing to do and that leads to, um, interesting activities," she said.
Wilson's days now consist of working a part-time job running errands for the owner of an art gallery.

"I've made a real turnaround," he said. "I want to be a more productive citizen in society." {CUT HERE... original article link ~}
- Heather Knight
E-mail Heather Knight at
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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