Nearly half of the chronically homeless in Hawaii suffer from severe mental illness. Now, some lawmakers are backing a bill that would beef up the state's mental health system to get more help to those living on the streets.
A bill moving through the state Legislature would create four levels of psychiatric rehabilitation programs, ranging from short-term crisis care to long term residential treatment. The bill also provides funding for additional outreach services.
Currently, a person with mental health issues has to be arrested to qualify for long-term treatment at the Hawaii State Hospital.
Many service providers say the proposal would be a critical step toward getting the chronically homeless housed.
"I think it does a good job of really focusing on rehabilitation and residential services for a lot of folks," said Connie Mitchell, executive director of the Institute for Human Services, which runs the state's largest homeless shelter. "That's really saying we need places for homeless people to receive services and not be homeless anymore."
Trisha Kajimura, executive director of Mental Health America of Hawaii, said key to any proposal to bolster services is a recognition that the severely mentally ill need individualized care.
"It takes that one on one trusting relationship with an outreach worker for a homeless person to feel that shelter is a safe option for them," she said.
The proposal wouldn't be cheap. The bill initially called for a $1 million appropriation from the general fund.
Mitchell says it would be worth it, but added, "I think one of the things that could be more clearly articulated is a piece on inpatient beds for people who need longer-term stabilization, psychiatric stabilization."
The bill passed the Senate and will go before its final committee hearing Tuesday.