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Fayette County and the surrounding communities are feeling the impact of a repeated cycle of untreated mental illness and addiction leading to homelessness, leading to crime.
When persons with mental illness are also homeless, they lack the support necessary to maintain their mental health with medications and therapy. In addition to a lack of proper medications, many homeless individuals are challenged by alcohol and drug addiction. All too often this combination leads to public behaviors that are at best disruptive and at worst criminal.
On Tuesday, Sept. 7, a meeting occurred between Fayette County and City of Vandalia officials who came together to seek to identify possible changes in policy or services that may help address the problem while still complying with state laws and regulations.
While mental illness is not a crime, when left untreated it often results in behaviors that are criminal and dangerous to the public. Over the past months alone local law enforcement have responded to multiple calls of disruptive, violent, trespass, and theft by individuals with untreated mental illness.
Many rural communities lack the basic social services needed to address homelessness and associated mental health issues. Those impacted residents are left adrift floating from one charitable program to another whose focus is on shelter and meals without the ability to address the underlying mental illness. With proper intervention they may return to their medications, improve their behaviors, and are released with perhaps a few days of medication and directions to seek ongoing treatment. Unfortunately, without ongoing support, the intervention for many is unsuccessful, and they return to their prior pattern of behavior and the cycle continues.
There are limited state resources available for treatment of mental health, and police officers may directly transport, or the court may direct an arrestee to a mental facility if they detect behaviors of mental illness. In the best of circumstances an arrestee is accepted as a patient for treatment. In many instances though, due to limited funding, there are no beds available, and the officer is left with an individual who is still participating in criminal behavior.
In years past this individual would be placed in the Fayette County Jail until released and that cycle would continue.
Increased state regulations on jail operations in general and the housing and treatment of inmates with mental illness specifically, have further complicated this problem. County jails must now have facilities designed to house mentally ill inmates with increased supervision and separated from other inmates. Add to this challenge increased regulations on ADA compliance with larger cells and toilet and shower facilities and the ongoing demands of social distancing for COVID and it becomes immediately clear that the Fayette County Jail cannot comply.
These challenges will continue to be discussed by Fayette County and City of Vandalia officials which will undoubtedly see the need for additional investments in social services by the community and addressing the lack of suitable jail facilities by the county. The Fayette County Board asked the Sheriff and Public Building Commission to explore options to address the jail limitations and provide more information at future meetings.
Where does that leave us in our challenge with mental illness? The cycle continues, with no community social services, limited state treatment facilities, and restrictions on placing individuals in jail our residents are left with few options.
In a recent Fayette County Board meeting the county has pledged $500,000 of the federal American Rescue Act funds to contract with Community Resource Center INC to enhance drug and alcohol counseling and provide an additional Crisis Manager. This investment will create a sustaining service for county residents.