Tag Archives: mental health

Mental health and criminal justice: Penny wise and definitely foolish

By Chris O’Connor, Contrbuting Writer

As an attorney working solely in indigent defense, I often see the terrible collision of mental health and the criminal justice system. Some of those in government and policy positions need to come down to the courthouse and see the unfortunate mess that results when the criminal justice system tries to deal with what ultimately is a medical problem.

I think a closer and more personal look at individual cases as examples would help us refocus our efforts on what works and improve results while saving money. The current approach is failing all of the people involved, from victims of real crime to people lost in their mental disorder and disease.

This is not to say that there are not many hardworking, compassionate and smart people working in the various treatment agencies and government offices. It’s just that they don’t get the seemingly limitless budgets and lack of financial accountability given to the police, the district attorney and the jails and prisons or the forensic wards of the state hospital. Spend a few more pennies on the front line workers, counselors, doctors and nurses and you can save many pounds on the criminal justice end. Continue reading

A famous dad (Kurt Vonnegut) and an infamous mental illness

by Julia Cechvala, Contributing Writer

A few years before he died I had the pleasure of seeing Kurt Vonnegut speak to a sold-out crowd at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I remember him saying he didn’t have much hope for the world, we’ve screwed it up too badly already, but that a few things still make life worthwhile, one of them being music. On that note he ended his talk, cued the auditorium to fill with the transcendent notes of Strauss’ “Blue Danube” and proceeded to waltz around the stage with an imaginary partner.

Kurt passed on his enjoyment of the arts as a saving grace to his son Mark Vonnegut, who includes a few of his own paintings in his new memoir, “Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So.” Growing up in a household with a long history of mental illness and a father who spoke of suicide casually, Mark tells how the arts have been a coping strategy throughout his life in dealing with bipolar disorder. Mark’s story of humility and grace in striving to live a normal life and maintaining a demanding career — all while living with mental illness — is worthy in it’s own right. That it offers insight into what it was like to be the son of one of America’s most famous authors is just a bonus. Continue reading

Will concerns about public safety help reform the Psychiatric Security Review Board?

By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer

As minimum security patients at the Oregon State Hospital, Matthew Kirby, 22, and a 40-year old man identified as “Emmanuel Goldstein” for this article are allowed to do quite a bit.

They can leave the hospital’s grounds under the supervision of one hospital staff person, and could, for instance, eat at any of Salem’s restaurants. Other higher security patients leave their wards in shackles, if they leave at all.

Kirby and Goldstein can wear their own clothes, have their own cell phone, laptop, and  other possessions with them. They can access the kitchen in the middle of a night for a snack.

One might say their lives are bearable. But Kirby and Goldstein say they are still institutionalized. Continue reading

Breakdown: Proposed budget cuts could drastically alter local services

By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer

Homeless and low-income advocates, service providers, and policymakers were put on notice when the Republican-controlled — and Tea Party infused — House of Representatives released it’s budget last month.

The House budget plan would cut $61 billion in discretionary spending (which does not include defense spending or entitlement programs, such as Social Security). That includes $5.5 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, and more than $1 billion, almost half the budget, for maintaining aging public housing units. Funding to Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting would be completely eliminated, and programs paying for substance-abuse treatment, mental-health care, low-income housing programs, education programs for the poor, and senior and disabled programs all are on the chopping block. The cuts being proposed are not snips and trims, but program-altering gouges that service providers say will fundamentally change how the safety net operates and serves vulnerable populations.

The House’s budget passed on Feb. 19, but failed to gain enough support in the Senate. However, President Barack Obama’s proposed budget, supported by Democrats and cutting $10 billion, hasn’t garnered enough support to pass in the Senate, either. Meanwhile, stop-gap budgets passed in the House continue to chip away at funding. It could be months before a settlement is reached, and everyone with a dog in the fight is bracing for significant cuts to safety-net programs.

“It will be devastating,” says Jean DeMaster, the executive director of the social service agency Human Solutions. “Huge numbers of people” will not be able to have their basic needs of food, shelter, and safety met.

“The problem is not going to show up today,” DeMaster says. But consider a child in the first grade, who becomes homeless, and may not be able to participate in an after-school program that would help him or her keep their grades up. “They don’t graduate from high school, then they don’t get jobs,” DeMaster says. “(The problem) does show up eventually.” Continue reading

Protesters say Gov’s cuts sending us ‘back to the 1970s’

About 200 people rallied at noon today to protest Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s budget cuts to human services, saying the cuts will have a devastating effect on the state’s most vulnerable populations.

The cuts, part of a $158 million slashed from the state’s Department of Human Services, includes major reductions to programs that help seniors and people with disabilities stay in their homes, and mental health programs and other services intended to help people live independent of institutions. (An in-depth look at the cuts is outlined in the current edition of Street Roots. Buy one from a vendor today!)

“With these cuts, we’re going back to the 1970s when I was first injured,” says Choi Marquardt, who neck was broken in a car accident when she was 15. “I was placed in a nursing home when I was 17.” (Photos after the cut.)

Continue reading

Navigating the inequities of mental health system

By Jenny Westberg, Contributing Columnist

Keaton Otis died on May 12. We know police shot at him 32 times. We know the other victim, Officer Christopher Burley, and we know he’ll survive. We know so much about a few moments. Now, thanks to the courage of Keaton’s parents, Felesia and Joseph Otis, we’ve heard about other moments in this bright, creative young man’s life — and the illness that may have led to his tragic death at only 25.

Keaton had a mood disorder. According to reports, a nurse practitioner consulted by the Otis family said he likely had schizoaffective disorder. And he needed help. But Keaton Otis wasn’t interested in getting treatment, and his parents were desperate. Instead he shut himself away from friends and family. He was convinced that people were plotting against him. He stopped eating and lost 50 pounds. Many families in our community have faced this situation. The U.S. Surgeon General reported one in five people have a diagnosable mental illness during the course of one year. We all know someone who’s dealing with mental illness or addiction. But what if it’s your son or daughter in crisis? Continue reading

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Hot stuff coming your way, and not just that sultry Mother Nature. The new Street Roots just went to press and will be on the streets Friday morning, cradled by the hardworking hands of your local neighborhood vendor. Give him or her a smile and a buck, and here’s what you’ll find inside:

Hard rain’s gonna fall: The new state budget punches a hole in the safety nets for the most vulnerable Oregonians. We break down just a sampling of the programs being hit hardest, including support for the disabled, mentally ill and unemployed. An important read.

Insite into the problem: In our ongoing coverage of heroin addiction, Amanda Waldroupe talks with Russ Maynard with Vancouver’s Insite injection site. It’s unique in North America, but follows a proven harm-reduction program replicated across Europe. There are lessons here for the U.S.

The bike beat: Bike Portland’s Jonathan Maus keeps the gears turning on the city’s two-wheeled vision. Israel Bayer reports.

Film follows mother’s perspective on Juarez’s murdered women: It’s become an old story, but the murders continue, and one filmmaker seeks to make sure people understand the carnage and politics of the tragedy happening just south of the border.

Plus commentaries from vendor Leo Rhodes, the Mental Health Association of Portland, and a profile of vendor Allen Bennett. Grab water, shades, sunscreen and the paper, and your weekend will be off to a perfect start. Thank you!

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One minute it’s warm and sunny, the next it’s cold, foggy and grey. It’s tough to know what to wear these days. But you always know what to read! And starting tomorrow, you’ll have a fresh copy of Street Roots to keep your mind warm and toasty. Here’s what you’ll find inside:

Rings of Fire: Vancouver, B.C.’s street paper talks about how the Winter Olympics have reignited the homeless front to push back on gentrification and homelessness.

Matters of life or death: A frank discussion between Street Roots’ Israel Bayer and Jason Renaud, co-founder of the Mental Health Association of Portland and an ardent activist for people with mental illness. The two talk about the latest police shooting of an unarmed man in crisis.

Staying Alive: It might sound counterintuitive that a self-injection site for people with drug addictions can actually help people get off drugs, but it does. Learn more about the work of Insite in Vancouver, B.C., which is patterned after European models with great success.

Street Roots Annual Report: For those familiar with Street Roots and those new to the experience, the 2009 Annual Report packs a yearful of journalism, community involvement, resource development, advocacy and vendor accomplishments into four pages.

And speaking of vendors! Visit yours Friday morning, share a big smile and pick up the new copy of Street Roots. It’s a dollar well spent. Always has been.

Mental health care funds left behind in the recovery

In February, Chris Bouneff got a phone call from a man whose wife has bipolar disorder. She had been managing it well with private health care, the caller said, but then the couple both lost their jobs, and their insurance was about to lapse. He wanted to know where else they could go for the mental health services his wife needed.

“He’s calling, saying, ‘What do I do?'” recounted Bouneff, who is the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Oregon branch. “What do you say to someone like that? ‘Sorry’?”

Continue reading

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march0609page1In like a lion, as they say – March as definitely arrived! Why not celebrate this weekend with the latest edition of Street Roots, hot off the press and in your neighborhood vendor’s hands on Friday morning. Here’s what you will be enjoying soon:

Are we stimulated yet? What will Portland really reap from the economic stimulus plan? That’s the question that a lot of people are still trying to answer, but there’s a lot more hope in the air, even if we haven’t yet seen the change. Joanne Zuhl and Rebecca Robinson report.

Mental health funds left behind in the recovery: Mara Grunbaum looks at the tempest brewing over proposed cuts to mental health funding, while local business and police seek a controversial tool to get people off the streets and committed for treatment.

Detroit’s fall lingers in its harsh winter: Writer Cassandra Koslen returned to her hometown of Detroit to find it dying under the weight of it’s own past.

Banding together: A profile of a few of the colorful buskers earning a buck with their music on Portland’s streets.

And you’ll get to know Nathan Junkin – your vendor at Third and Alder. Plus a whole lot more, overflowing from the pages of the new edition of Street Roots.

Posted by Joanne Zuhl

“We’re not crazy”: Gulf War illness is real — deal with it, veterans tell national panel


By Cydney Gillis, Street News Service

In the final days of the first Gulf War in Iraq, Mark Nieves was a soldier in a unit assigned to destroying munitions dumps. When the war was over, he came home to Seattle and started college, joining Reserve officers’ training to further his career in the military.

His body, however, had other plans. As a junior in his 20s, Nieves began to notice that he couldn’t exercise without becoming unusually winded. He became drowsy and lethargic, saw blood in his stool and, after exercising, he started breaking out in head-to-foot hives the size of dollar bills — a condition for which he sought help early on from the Seattle veterans hospital, only to regret it.

Because no welts were visible during his first visit, “one resident doctor became irritated with me… yelling at me and kicking me out of the treatment area. I was humiliated in front of everyone,” Nieves told a national panel of doctors and veterans who visited the Seattle hospital in January. He went in a second time, he said, and was simply given a common anti-allergy medication.

“From that day,” Nieves said, “I gave up on the VA.” He never went back — a problem that, 17 years after the war’s end, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is finally trying to address.

Continue reading

The story behind the Lone Fir cemetery


(Photo by Leah Nash) Grace Heckenberg stands in Lone Fir Cemetery. Nearby, more than 100 residents of Oregon’s landmark Hawthorne Asylum lie buried in unmarked graves.

“That portion of the cemetery set apart for the burial of Chinamen is the southwestern part and in that corner a great many celestials “sleep the sleep which knows no waking.” Near that part of the grounds the patients who died at the asylum were for many years buried. Rows upon rows of graves are to be found in close proximity, close to the south side, a short distance east of where the dead celestials are buried. Most of those graves are marked with the names of the departed, but there is a sense of stranger-like and friendless exclusion about these mounds and it strikes one as being an act of charity to place them so close together. Even in death the suggestion of association and companionship affords a gleam of consolation.”

— The Oregonian, 1887

(From the Nov. 14, edition)

Mental-health advocates memorialize asylum residents buried and forgotten in Lone Fir Cemetery (By Mara Grunbaum, Contributing Writer)

Charity Lamb, Oregon’s first ax murderess, was buried at Lone Fir Cemetery in 1879. Around 1930, her grave was layered over with asphalt. In 1955, a building was erected atop the pavement, and Charity Lamb – along with more than 100 other patients of the long-since demolished Oregon Insane Hospital – was nearly forgotten.

Researchers believe that up to 132 people who died in Portland’s first private mental hospital are buried at Lone Fir Cemetery’s southwest corner, where a Multnomah County office building stood until 2005. After persistent agitation by mental-health advocates, Metro regional government, which now controls the property, is planning an onsite memorial for the asylum patients – and trying to include people who have experienced mental illness in the design process.

Grace Heckenberg has worked for years to cast light on the patients of Dr. James Hawthorne, the pioneer psychiatrist who built the Oregon Insane Hospital in what was then the city of East Portland.

In 1969, when Heckenberg was 17, she spent a year as a psychiatric patient at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem. Now 56, Heckenberg visits Lone Fir often. She says she feels solidarity with those who lived in the Portland asylum.

Years ago, Heckenberg and others began to comb through historical documents and realized there could be patients buried under the cemetery parking lot. She asked the county about an official commemoration, but at the time, she says, no one was interested.

“At a certain point I just became extremely discouraged and decided that they were never going to be recognized,” Heckenberg said. “Maybe the memorial’s just in my own heart. I know they’re down there.”


Lone Fir, in Southeast Portland’s Buckman neighborhood, was a private burial site for pioneer families that became an official cemetery in 1855. Historical maps show that in the late 1800s, the corner property, or “Block 14,” was designated for the burial of Chinese immigrant railroad workers, who were not allowed elsewhere in the cemetery. Many of their bodies were disinterred and returned to China before Multnomah County began to build on the land in the 1930s.


Census records from 1870 show dozens of residents of the Hawthorne Asylum, listed as either “insane” or “idiotic.” The residents came from all over the world, including Scotland, Germany and Peru.

Continue reading

Richard Harris takes on Oregon’s mental health and addictions division

Post Oct. 24, 2008

By Amanda Waldroupe
Contributing Writer

The Oregon office of Addictions and Mental Health Division is moving and shaking.
On September 12, it was announced that Richard Harris, 68, the retiring executive director of Central City Concern, would replace Bob Nikkel and serve as interim director of the division.

Tapping Harris to head the Addictions and Mental Health office, which is a division within the state’s Department of Human Services, is nothing short of bold: His admirers say Harris is perhaps the only person in the state who has the integrity and experience to tackle the challenges facing Oregon’s mental health and drug treatment systems.

Some of those challenges include a dilapidated state hospital that was taken through the wringer by an investigation conducted by the Department of Justice released in January of this year, determining the future of Cascadia after its April financial implosion, bolstering the state’s community health systems, and all in times of scarce financial resources.

Harris has a solution, one that he has found working for Central City Concern for 29 years.  The social service agency’s nationally recognized way of providing alcohol, addiction and mental health services—combining supportive services with housing in a supportive community—is a model he hopes to begin replicating at the state level.

Harris started the job on Monday, September 29.  In an interview with Street Roots, Harris talked about his plans for being interim director and some of the challenges he faces.

More after the jump. Continue reading