At the April 2 Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness meeting, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services Inpatient Program Manager Veronica Calkins spoke about the issues homeless individuals or those suffering from mental health or substance abuse problems face in the criminal justice system.
Calkins works with the Office of Diversion and Reentry, a countywide criminal justice diversion program created in 2015 by the LA County Board of Supervisors for persons with mental health or substance use disorders, including homeless individuals.
Calkins discussed the incarceration process, statistics about jail and mental health programs in jail.
“In Los Angeles County jails, the cost is between $60,000 and $80,000 to house one inmate, about $205 a day,” Calkins said. “If you don’t care about anything else, that’s a tremendous cost to our county.”
Calkins also discussed LA’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility, the country’s largest mental health facility and the largest jail on earth.
“Twin Towers is at 137% of its capacity,” Calkins said. “It’s a hard environment to be a human.”
Calkins also discussed a judge’s ability to declare doubt for an individual in need of help, enabling the judge to prescribe involuntary medication orders and help get inmates into rehabilitative programs.
“That does not mean a pass for release, it means you get extra treatment in jail to regain your competence,” Calkins explained. “By declaring doubt you ensure they’re not discharged out on the streets when their time is up. People who commit low-level crimes, like … sleeping in a park … we’re making sure these people aren’t just released back to the street so they don’t go back to that same park.”
LAPD West Bureau Officer Rusty Redican fielded questions that came up after Calkins’ presentation.
“It’s going to take legislation to change the situation,” Redican said. “We don’t want somebody in the criminal justice system who doesn’t need to be there.
“Our current criminal justice system is the best in the world, but it’s not perfect. A lot of these crimes that are seen as nuisance crimes really sometimes can save people’s lives because they get them into a position where they can actually get the help they need.”
West Coast Care
West Coast Care Director Ron Hooks also presented at the April 2 community meeting. The Santa Monica-based program, founded in 2006, reunites homeless individuals with their families, or finds them temporary or permanent shelter.
Hooks and his two sons find homeless individuals and offer them water, granola bars, a hygiene kit and resources to get home or get in touch with loved ones.
“What we do is we wake people up and offer granola bars and water. It’s kind of a bridge,” Hooks said. “We ask, ‘Is there anybody back home that could offer you shelter?’ That’s the first seed we try to plant.”
Hooks explained that West Coast Care performs a six-month follow-up on the individuals that pass through the program.
“We sort of figured out that family component … is really powerful,” he explained. “Between 50% and 85% that we follow up on, they’re still connected to their families.”
Last year, West Coast Care helped 321 people reconnect with their families and got 782 people into housing, treatment, jobs or shelter programs. The organization also gave out 1,036 bus tokens to help those individuals stay enrolled in programs.
To date this year, West Coast Care has reconnected 74 individuals with their families and gotten 141 individuals into service programs.
“We’re really proud of that work,” said Hooks. “I think the most powerful thing we say is, ‘We’ll see you tomorrow.’”
Hooks hopes to expand West Coast Care to the Palisades, but faces financial and legal hurdles.
“We don’t have the money to get into Will Rogers yet,” Hooks said. “But everything’s got to line up … it would cost around $100,000 to fund.”
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