Santa Barbara mental health nonprofits thought they were in the clear for funding in this coming fiscal year and that the threat of drastic cuts was history when on June 13 the Board of Supervisors allocated $4.15 million to Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services (ADMHS). They were mistaken.
Despite the relatively large slice of the budgetary pie, Ann Detrick, ADMHS’s recently appointed director, afterward met individually with the heads of community-based organizations (CBOs) and gave them a list of cuts they would have to make. J.T. Turner, executive director of Phoenix of Santa Barbara, said he received a hand-delivered letter from Detrick’s office stating that if he did not sign her contract within five working days, ADMHS would take control of his organization and begin shutting it down. He signed, agreeing to a $300,000 cut, which is 24 percent of Phoenix’s budget, and spells the end of its outpatient program. On July 15, Detrick presented a budget to the Board of Supervisors that distributed the $4.15 million over two years.
For most service providers, the most surprising part of these changes is that cuts were due not to a lack of funding, which was the concern prior to the June 13 budget hearing, but to the fact that one third of this fiscal year’s allotted money is being saved for next year.
Mike Foley, director of Casa Esperanza Homeless Shelter, also expressed confusion and frustration over the lack of information about the decisions being made at ADMHS. “I haven’t heard one public statement about what will happen to the people who lose their services,” said Foley.
The Independent tried to contact Ann Detrick numerous times over several days to answer some of these questions, but never received a reply; a receptionist said all calls from media were to be redirected to William Boyer, communications director for the County of Santa Barbara, who was short on answers. When asked why the decision was made to save a third of ADMHS’s 2008-09 funds for the next fiscal year, Boyer replied, “You lost me on that. I don’t know.” On Monday, July 14, he said he would try to find the answers, but as of press time had not supplied them.
Mental health service providers, consumers, and their friends and family members presented testimony at the July 15 meeting in an effort to convince supervisors to reconsider Detrick’s proposed contracts. Turner came into the meeting hoping that the supervisors would allow a few months of provisional contracts, so that ADMHS could negotiate more reasonable and desirable contracts with the individual CBOs. Even when 5th District Supervisor Joe Centeno expressed his concerns about the fate of consumers, asking Detrick, “If we displace any of our clients, where are those clients going to go?” no concrete answer was provided. “It is our commitment to keep people in housing,” Detrick responded.
Turner said that according to his surveys, 11 programs will be eliminated countywide, ranging from a crisis support and information line, to 34 beds at licensed board-and-care homes (including Casa de Mural, Assessment Center Project, Lyons, Casa Juana Maria, and two beds at Sanctuary House), homeless services, socialization services, and work adjustment and horticultural programs. More than 250 people will lose their current services, Turner said.
He said his understanding is that the amount of housing for mentally ill clients is to remain the same even though some residential facilities will close: Some beds are to be replaced by less expensive housing that may provide a less intense level of support. He predicted that some clients will become symptomatic, hospitalized, homeless, or suicidal.
Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf also expressed her concern, saying, “I’m hoping we can come back on a quarterly basis to assess. : I want to know and the board wants to know how we are doing on this very complex problem.” Ultimately, the supervisors voted unanimously to approve the proposed contracts and agreed upon quarterly progress updates from ADMHS.