Friday, May 23, 2008

What’s fair is fair, but why?

What’s fair is fair, but why?

Last April, a storm came about when the SB County Director of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services department presented a budget that included an 8.4 million dollar budget cut for the 08-09 fiscal budget to the Board of Supervisors. As it is, the 2% in revenue that Santa Barbara County provides to ADMHS is much lower than the 6% mean contribution by other California Counties. Of the proposed budget cuts, 60% would be to Community Based Organizations that provide housing and other services; this translates into expelling 800 people from a safety net already in place, which supports people to get on their way to being self sufficient, productive, and healthy members of society.

Community leaders and advocates got together to fight these cuts. While SB CAN has not yet joined this coalition, we do belong to The General Fund Fairness Coalition, and the word fairness is what brought this fight to our attention. Budgets are a tough thing to deal with, yet it is in the best interest of this county to fund the most amount of ADMHS without the exorbitant departmental proposed cuts because in the long run the county will save money that they would otherwise pay for hospital beds, jail fees and emergency services for the people who, come June will be affected. Pragmatism and fiscally sound policies are one reason for a fair budget.

Santa Barbara City’s efforts to implement a 10 year plan to end chronic homelessness is an example of appropriately addressing interrelated issues. It is a fact that many people that are homeless are dually diagnosed with some sort of addiction and mental illness. It is difficult to understand how one would chose to live on State Street, under a bridge, or be panhandling on a freeway exit, yet it is important to acknowledge that “people are mentally ill through no fault of their own”, as Mike Foley and I discussed.

When people have a mental illness, which could begin to show at different times in ones life, sometimes during high school, or for others in their mid-thirties, and onward, people would in a perfect world have access to mental health care, and a strong social network of friends and family who understand the complexities of this illness, can provide patient support and care of an individual to keep them safe, focused, productive and eventually get the ongoing support that they need. Unfortunately we live in a less than perfect world and mental illnesses are not always diagnosed, people don’t always have the access to pay for insurance that covers psychiatrists and other non-“basic” health care. Also, there is STILL a stigma around the issue of mental illness, which is one of many factors as to why a person might lose a social network, if they had one at all. Add a little bit of misfortune, and before you know it, an individual can be on an unimaginable and unstoppable downward spiral that concludes in one’s first night sleeping on Main Street.

One reason to provide the funding for CBOs that can help an individual at different points on their way back up, is because this could be you, or your children, or your friends. That’s a pragmatic, yet selfish reason to fund this budget but it’s a second reason.

Given the economic chaos that we are in, nationally, the foreclosure rise in our state, and the budget concerns that we have in our county, and seeing all the interrelatedness of the issues, I asked Mike about the local impact, and he shared that Casa Esperanza has seen a 17% increase in clients since January 08. Things are not getting better, and it is now when we need to make sure that there is a safety net for those that need it, not only for pragmatism and selfishness, but because it’s the right thing to do, these individuals that now are serviced are in fact someone’s friend, someone’s child, and someone’s parent. We cannot just sit on the sidelines and watch these budgets hearings come June. A fair budget is not about hope, it’s about political will, and it is our responsibility to be there in the advocacy of more than just a balanced budget, but a FAIR budget.

p.s. Speaking of fairness..."of moral fiber", I ran into an article in the indy (the Independent, the most reliable source of local news in S.B) and I am disgusted by the attitudes and tone...not only of the portrayed business owners but also of some comments...grr