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Letter to the Editor
Only Half the Story
Psychiatric News
Volume 38 Number 22 page 28-28

Dr. Marcia Goin wrote in her column in the July 4 issue: "While deinstitutionalization has succeeded in decreasing the number of hospital beds, an unforeseen consequence has been the proportional increase in the number of mentally ill people housed in the criminal justice system." I found it most interesting that no reference was made to the numbers of mentally ill people now making up the homeless street- and sidewalk-dwelling population.

Here in California, during Ronald Reagan’s tenure as governor, the number of mentally ill people in the state hospital system dropped from 26,500 in 1967 to 6,400 in 1974. While many thought that deinstitutionalization represented progress, the truth is that former patients were residing in our parks, on streets and sidewalks, or in doorways of various establishments in numbers that now reach into the thousands.

Any study of the move to deinstitutionalize must include the thousands that are no longer in our institutions, but make up the core group of the homeless individuals. I hope that all such studies will credit Reagan for being so vigorous in emptying state hospitals in a system that had been ranked either first or second from 1960 until Reagan became governor.

From 1960 to 1967 I had the good fortune to serve on Governor Pat Brown’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health. He demonstrated his concerns by attending all of our meetings and responding with interest to recommendations made by committee members, which included Drs. Jack Lomas and Harry Brickman, former presidents of the Southern California Psychiatric Society, as well as Phil May, who was doing his research at Camarillo State Hospital.

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