Dale L. Vogt: Oregon's mentally ill population generally belongs in specialized housing, not prison

It is often the way that people look act and feel about you that make mental illness a tragedy. But we have more hope today for a remedy, because of the heightened awareness of the consequences of ignoring the needs of mentally ill people.

Registered nurse Morgan Huffstutter is pictured with her godfather Dale Vogt.Thanks to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and also thanks to advancements in social services and medications, we have, as a community, created a host of attention that now functions like an umbrella protecting us from the rain. However, there a certain guidelines that Oregonians need to read and remember the next time they vote.

I suffer from chronic mental illness that would have ended my life, had the aforementioned support network not been around me. I draw strength from a team that includes my brother, sisters, goddaughter, friends and extended family.

Now that Oregon ranks 50th in the country for mental health funding (at the bottom) and homelessness abounds (40% of all homeless people have schizophrenia), I'm appealing to voters to help increase funding, awareness and innovation in treating and improving the lives of the mentally ill. These proposals would positively affect our entire community:

• We have hospitals and jails for dangerously violent and often disturbed mentally ill. But for chronically mentally ill people who don't pose a danger to themselves or society, a lack of dedicated funds will lead to an end of the same support and guidance that keeps us from slipping through the cracks and dying prematurely of neglect.

• To raise revenue, we should pass a levy, bond measure, or better yet, a 7% sales tax to benefit needy mentally ill people.

• We stand to gain from a state-run specialized nursing facility that provides long-term care just for mentally ill people. Such care needs proper nutrition and exercise. This facility must aim to minimize organ donation.

• We stand to benefit from a "west wing" building at Clackamas Community College, as well as at Mt. Hood Community College, that only allows documented mentally ill students within the building. Within these buildings, we would expect newly developed curriculum to provide licensed skills through two-year degrees. Coupled with supported employment, college faculty would help mentally ill students cope with short- and long-term illnesses. Specially trained police officers on campus and in the surrounding communities would be able to heighten security around these buildings.

• Because some mentally ill can't drive, taxpayers should approve toll roads so revenue can be used for affordable transportation, particularly to rural areas.

• Quiet housing units are a must for mentally ill people who find that even the slightest noise prevents proper sleep.

Let's be mindful that such money for these ideas and innovations be spent in earnest on Oregon's mentally ill population, who are in greater number than ever before. This population doesn't all belong in prison, but in specialized housing. This action would open needed jail space for others.

Dale L. Vogt is a Jennings Lodge resident and mental health advocate.

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