Street Roots editorial
Street Roots has worked in and around the issue of mental health since our inception, some 14 years ago.
We’ve watched many individuals and families struggle with the issue of mental health, both through the services we offer at Street Roots and through the institutions and policies we cover editorially.
Fewer than two months ago, a person who was clearly struggling with mental health problems used Street Roots as a safe place during the day. The man walked around our block, hour after hour, in the pouring rain. He was obviously scared and not familiar with what resources he had available to him. He was reaching out for us to help. Being a small, grassroots organization with a limited drop-in service, we did everything in our power to help. We called a range of services. He refused to engage, and no one, including ourselves, deemed him harmful to himself or anyone else. Were we making the right decision? We don’t know.
After several days, and one staff member dedicating herself to working with the individual, we finally got him to start communicating to a mental health outreach worker. Things were looking up. Days later, he was gone. We have no idea where he went or if he was helped. His story was replaced by others with severe mental health disparities who each day access groups such as Street Roots for basic services, like a restroom or a cup of coffee. It’s overwhelming at times.
Recently, the Street Roots viewed “Alien Boy: the Life and Times of James Chasse,” a film that we highly recommend, and one that offers a dark and emotional insight into the failures of our mental health system. Likewise, the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, and the countless souls that have been forgotten on our own streets, deserve our paramount attention.
That’s why when we hear Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen, Mayor Charlie Hales, and Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney not only openly talking about the importance of mental health care, but also offering a calculated path forward on the issue, we have hope.
Cogen, in his State of the County address, proposed a first-aid training program. Cogen expects the county to offer two-day seminars for mental health training to front-line responders, like county workers, nonprofits, teachers and law enforcement officers.
Hales has promised to continue to work with law enforcement and the city to broaden training and offer resources for mental health services.
Sen. Courtney recently proposed a $330 million plan in Salem to target a wide array of services for mental health, including housing, jail diversion, employment programs and training, to name a few.
We commend all of our representatives for their actions. What’s needed now is a broader political will, locally and around the state, for their peers to follow the call to action.