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A Badly Altered State

A judge may force Colorado to take care of its homeless mentally ill population.

The result is a pathetic stream of disturbed people who show up at hospital doors. "Every emergency department in the city gets inundated by mentally ill people," says Casper. "They may get stabilized, but there's nowhere to refer them. I saw a lady this morning who was placed on a waiting list [for treatment] last October. She said she called the suicide hotline and they said call back on Monday. There's no place for these people to even get medication."

Since Denver's homeless population is growing, Casper thinks the city is headed for even more trouble. "We've created an island of homeless mentally ill," he says. "If there isn't funding for emergency care, you're going to see the homeless situation get worse in the next two years. We're going to be facing a crisis."

However, it doesn't seem likely that the state legislature will substantially increase spending for mental-health care anytime soon. "It's a challenge to meet the needs for mental-health care because we're so restricted on the dollars we can spend because of the Tabor Amendment," says Representative Todd Saliman of Boulder, who sits on the Joint Budget Committee. He says that last year the legislature boosted mental-health spending by 8 percent, but he acknowledges that it isn't enough to meet the need. "I've long wanted to see community mental health funded properly," he says. "I just don't know where we'll find the dollars to do it."

Attorney Kathleen Mullen has been fighting for the mentally ill homeless for fifteen years.Dr. Ed Casper believes the homeless are not getting the medical care they need.Sheryl Silver runs the Ruben L. Valdez Personal Care Center for the homeless and the mentally ill.Wade Livingston represents the state in court.
Attorney Kathleen Mullen has been fighting for the mentally ill homeless for fifteen years.Dr. Ed Casper believes the homeless are not getting the medical care they need.Sheryl Silver runs the Ruben L. Valdez Personal Care Center for the homeless and the mentally ill.Wade Livingston represents the state in court.
Attorney Kathleen Mullen has been fighting for the mentally ill homeless for fifteen years.
Brett Amole
Attorney Kathleen Mullen has been fighting for the mentally ill homeless for fifteen years.

That means that advocates for the mentally ill will continue to turn to the courts, trying to force the state's hand.

Mullen says it may take something as shocking as forcing a high-ranking state official to live in a homeless shelter to jolt the state out of its complacency.

"Marva Hammons and all the officials in the system have lost touch with the people they're supposed to be serving," she says.

Hammons's attorney isn't willing to guess how Judge Hoffman will reply to Mullen's unusual request. "I've been practicing law twenty years," he says, "and I've given up predicting what judges are going to do."

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