One idea talked about during a mental illnessforum
was building free housing for mentally ill inmates released from Harris County Jail.
David Mincberg, who is running against Ed Emmett for County Judge, believes such housing can be built in the city, publicly funded with federal money, and staffed with mental-health workers. "Handing them their meds and sending them on their way, that's not going to work," Mincberg said.
The details of such a plan were not talked about, and Mincberg didn't estimate how much it would cost. According to Sheriff Tommy Thomas, who also spoke at the forum, about 70 mentally ill inmates – often homeless – are released from the jail each day, so it wouldn't be hard to fill up the rooms.
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But it's certainly an ambitious idea. When district attorney candidate Pat Lykos spoke, she identified the group that needs to be diverted from the jail system is mentally ill people picked up for low-level crimes, such as possession of a crack pipe or prostitution. The idea would be to divert those people to mental health facilities, such as the free housing.
So we're talking about free housing for homeless people who are mentally ill but have been picked up for drugs or prostitution. There is plenty of research and literature about programs that keep mentally ill people out of jail being much cheaper in the long run.
And not one candidate at the event said the free housing plan wouldn't work. In fact, Lykos offered to fight anyone who didn't believe she could help solve the problem with that plan. Her opposition in the race, C.O. Bradford, offered to step outside, but we think both candidates were joking.
-- Paul Knight