Group homes for the mentally ill: Part 1

Medford, Ore. —  Thousands of Southern Oregon residents are dealing with some sort of mental illness and thanks to the state, county, and private companies, many of them live together possibly in your neighborhood.  These group homes are all over and you aren’t being told about their locations because frankly, the organizations behind them aren’t required to tell you.

It’s Jackson County Mental Health’s goal to offer a normal community living experience for those who suffer from mental illness.  In some cases that means placing people with mental disorders in your neighborhood.  It’s part of an effort to help folks who need extra care experience the regular day to day life we all enjoy, but for some residents in Rogue Valley neighborhoods it has sparked concern.

“It’s been a nightmare for the last five years for the most part,” this woman lives next door to a group home for people with mental illness in east Medford a few blocks from North Medford High School.  She asked that we hide her identity because she says she’s scared.

“Had a lot of issues for the past five years.”

The residents next door are all clients of a company that helps with the everyday needs of those with mental disorders including housing.

“We can’t have our windows open in nice weather,” she says.  “Most of the screaming and bellering and carrying on is at night time so you don’t have peaceful night time sleep.”

While her concern is mostly about the disruption and fights she says she’s witnessed next door, she’s also bothered that she wasn’t told who was moving in next door beforehand.  Medford police echo the same concern saying they have no idea where these group homes for the mentally ill are until they’re needed.

“Unfortunately that information is just not out there,” says Lt. Mike Budreau.  “We don’t become involved unless one of those individuals leaves and then it’s up to us to try and find them.”

That’s exactly what happened in August when a group home resident walked away from a Medford facility and skipped town.

“We don’t want to persecute or embarrass the person involved here, but we feel there is a big public safety issue,” says Budreau.

Although the group home client had no criminal history, the nature of his mental illness and his sexual attraction to under-aged girls meant police had to get involved to help find him.

“Again it is about public safety.  That’s our business,” Budreau explains.

Group homes, whether they’re run by county, state, or private companies can be located anywhere in residential areas and neither police or neighbors need to be told.

“We work with about 3,000 individuals a year that have mental health issues and there are certainly a proportion of those that need assistance with housing,” says Rick Rawlins with Jackson County Mental Health.

He says right now the county offers 20 foster homes able to serve a total of 93 people.

“We are still working to be able to meet the needs of the community in order to have enough resources.”

According to Jackson County Mental Health, from 2013 to 2014 “the demand for adult mental health services increased by 24%.”

“We hope to be able to support them wherever they are at on their path back to recovery,” Rawlins says.

And while that’s done by beefing up local resources, they’re also trying to shed a compassionate light on something that is often misunderstood.

“It impacts people of any race, economic status.” explains Rawlins.  “Mental illness can effect any of us at any point of our life.”

For more information on Jackson County Mental Health and the services they provide, follow this link.

Click this link for mental health resources from the Oregon Health Authority.

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