Recently, I have observed an upswing in the number of residents, businesses and tourists asking why the City and State allow obviously-mentally ill people to wander our streets, endangering both themselves and the public. It is a fair question, but there has been no acceptable answer to this question.
Finally, we are beginning to see some of our public officials address what is a deplorable situation. Plaudits go to our L.A. County Board of Supervisors for approving a motion last week asking the California State legislature to change how they define the words “grave disability”, which might have a positive impact on the current situation.
Under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act of 1967, a person is gravely disabled - and can be taken into custody and forcibly medicated – only if they are unable to meet basic needs for food, clothing or shelter. The county is requesting that the definition be expanded to include those who are unable to seek needed medical care, which would allow custody and compelled treatment of people who, in a court’s view, need medication but aren’t seeking it on their own.
Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Mark Ridley-Thomas co-sponsored the motion, and Barger noted that the county has to do better at getting people the healthcare they need. She’s right!
Only a year ago this week, a mentally-deranged homeless person entered the Jack-in-the Box restaurant on Sunset Blvd. at Cahuenga and stabbed three customers with a large knife before the LAPD shot him dead. Just this past Thanksgiving weekend, another mentally-ill person threatened people on Hollywood Blvd. with a screwdriver before grabbing a knife from a restaurant and stabbing a tourist.
These are not isolated cases. I hear frequently of other incidents involving homeless individuals who are mentally unstable. In my 25 years at the Chamber, I have never seen it as bad as it is today. The situation with the mentally ill has definitely deteriorated over that time period, which calls for a review of how they should be treated and a review of the civil rights argument.
We want to make this a walkable urban community, but that cannot happen if people are worried they will be attacked by the mentally ill. At some point, we will see an impact on jobs and our economy if these issues aren’t addressed. People will not visit or work in a community if they don’t feel safe.
I am encouraged that at the State level, Assemblymembers Laura Friedman and Miguel Santiago have just introduced AB1971, which would expand the definition of “gravely disabled”. As this measure is debated by the legislature, there will likely be a blistering attack from civil rights activists who believe that forcibly treating anyone will infringe on their civil rights.
It is time for the pendulum to swing back to the center. It is time for our representatives to recognize that the homeless man who was shot at the Jack-in the Box would have been better served if he had been forced into a treatment program. It is time for our representatives to recognize that the public also has a basic right to be able to walk in their community without fear that they will be attacked by someone who should be in treatment.
Voters approved Measures H and HHH to provide the funds to address our homeless crisis. If voters’ expectations are not met, then undoubtedly there will be political consequences. Providing housing and more funds for counseling and outreach will not do the job, unless the city and county also address getting the mentally-ill homeless into treatment. Congratulations to our Board of Supervisors for recognizing the problem and proposing a reasonable step, and thanks to Assemblymembers Friedman and Santiago for moving this forward.
Let’s hope the State legislature has the courage to adopt AB1971 and change the way the State defines “grave disabilities” to protect both the public and our homeless population. Solving a crisis today should not require relying on an outdated definition written over 50 years ago!
Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 25 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.