Eighteen years later, the disheveled individual Joanne Devereaux referred to is still a permanent fixture on Lakeshore and Grand. I marvel that he has been able to survive this long given his constant exposure to the elements along with his questionable diet. Although the clinical diagnosis is uncertain, he’s clearly mentally ill. Periodically, he’s disappeared and returned clean shaven, wearing clean clothes and possibly medicated.
Neighbors, concerned about his welfare, have, in the past, worked with OPD and the Social Service system to have him picked up on a 5150 complaint and taken to Highland for observation. On those occasions, staff has invariably determined that he’s neither a threat to himself or to others – the usual legal standard that has been applied in determining whether any California resident can be hospitalized against his or her will. Typically, after spending the night, he’s been released without treatment, without a shower, and without a change of clothing.
Approximately five years ago, concerned neighbors convened a group of mental health professionals to advocate on his behalf, arguing that a third legal standard that was rarely cited applied in his case – namely that he was gravely disabled and incapable of adequately caring for himself. The overwhelming consensus was that this third standard clearly applied, and the Alameda County Mental Director agreed to refer him for a 5250 when a hospital bed opened. For whatever reason, that never occurred. In 2015, Alameda County approved implementation of Laura’s Law with provisions for mandating “Assisted Outpatient Treatment” or “AOT” for individuals suffering from severe mental illness and/or addiction.
Theoretically, this newer measure should better facilitate treatment for the most severely disabled individuals. In the case of this homeless denizen, it hasn’t worked, but the sad reality is that he’s no longer the “worst case” scenario. In our immediate vicinity, there are now at least two or three other homeless individuals who expose themselves and defecate in public and often on themselves. In addition, there’s a military veteran, apparently suffering from PTSD and addictions, who has been regularly creating havoc – stealing, breaking shop windows, engaging in fights, and threatening lives. In these cases, it’s critically important that we begin to utilize the legal resources available to get the mentally ill off the streets and into supportive housing – such as that provided by Bonita House in Berkeley.