GEORGIA VIEWS

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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The Brunswick News on the lack of treatment options for individuals with mental health issues in Georgia:

New proposals for improving the treatment of individuals with mental health issues in Georgia will hopefully amount to more than mere lip service. The list of recommendations will be the result of the work of a statewide study committee, the Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission.

Formed in 2019 and chaired by state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, the commission recognized what most Georgians have known for a long, long time. The treatment of individuals with mental health issues – if what’s provided them can even be described as “treatment” – is deplorable. It is, has been and will be for more years to come until state leaders are willing to do more than just talk about the problem.

The commission itself may be failing its objective. It’s impossible, for instance, to thoroughly discuss and create a constructive game plan for dealing with this worsening issue after just two meetings. The pandemic has been an obstacle, of course, but most have managed to get around it by meeting virtually.

Treatment services offered today are about as far away from adequate as the Earth is to the moon. It must include more than dispensing medications to individuals suffering from mental illness and returning them to the streets with instructions on how to care for themselves.

Oftentimes these men and women — and children too — end up among the homeless. With no place to go, they are exposed to the harshest of elements and are easy prey to the worst of mankind. Ideally, they would be cared for wards of loving families, but loyalty and duty seem to be waning mores in the 21st century.

The horror stories and facts disclosed during the commission’s most recent meeting ought to spur even the most insensitive leaders into action, stories like the 13-year-old girl who was sex-trafficked by a parent and hospitalized 19 times. The incidents allegedly occurred after she spent time in a residential treatment facility, treatment she was initially denied.

Georgia Supreme Court Justice Michael Boggs, a member of the commission, may have shocked the group with this mortifying statistic: as of January, roughly 25 percent of the 53,700 individuals incarcerated in state prisons needed treatment for mental illness. The number requiring help for mental illness can be even higher at county jails, prompting Justice Boggs to remark, “Our jails become the de facto mental health institutions in a lot of our communities. It is not only morally unacceptable. It’s financially and otherwise not sustainable.”

Georgia must find a better way to embrace this dire situation. It will be costly, but it’s better than the alternative, which is to do almost nothing. The state is doing that now, and the results reflect poorly on all of us.

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The Daily Citizen-News on combating homelessness in Georgia's Whitfield County:

Representatives of local agencies who work with the homeless said recently they fear the arrival in January of a wave of evictions after a second nationwide moratorium on evictions expires on Dec. 31. The Aspen Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, says as many as 40 million people across the country are at risk of being evicted.

“We are ... going to have a big problem in Dalton on Jan. 1, and it’s going to be cold,” said Suzanne Hooie, minister of missions and spiritual formation for First Baptist Church of Dalton.

Representatives of local charitable agencies and government officials have been trying to find ways to deal with the problem, as they know the federal government can’t keep extending moratoriums on evictions. Local agencies are already housing about 200 families who have lost their homes because of the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

When the representatives of the local agencies first started meeting, they hoped Whitfield County and the city of Dalton could use some of the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act money the governments expected to receive to help alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on homelessness. But Gov. Brian Kemp decided to use $1.5 billion in CARES Act funding the state received to shore up the state’s unemployment insurance fund, meaning local governments would not receive funds they had expected.

Whitfield County had already received about $3.4 million in federal funding from the CARES Act earlier this year. State officials who administer the program let county officials apply that money to the payroll of sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and others who are on the front lines fighting COVID-19. That freed up an equivalent amount of money the county had budgeted for payroll, and commissioners decided to spend about $2.5 million of that money for new vehicles for the sheriff’s office and the fire department, and technology upgrades for a number of departments.

We editorialized in September, “The spending spree was yet another example of commissioners doling out money -- your money -- instead of showing fiscal restraint and delaying these purchases as we deal with the impact COVID-19 is having on our economy.”

That conclusion becomes even more heartbreaking now that we are told that the new year will bring a wave of evictions that, if they occur, will bring untold human suffering to people in our community -- parents, children, perhaps even the grandparents of some.

Dalton Mayor David Pennington said city officials are aware of the potential wave of evictions and have decided to help through the Dalton-Whitfield Community Development Corp., a nonprofit whose mission is to help people acquire and maintain safe housing.

“We used to fund that equally with the county, $80,000 each,” Pennington said. “But a couple of years ago, the county decided to stop funding its half. We are going to ask them to put that back into their budget.”

Good luck.

Two members of the county Board of Commissioners have already expressed skepticism about such funding, Harold Brooker and Greg Jones.

Jones told a reporter that “taxpayers can’t pay for everything.”

Well, not unless the county commissioners want them to, that is, as the spending spree in September demonstrated.

And in November, the county commissioners went on another spending spree, approving the purchases of the following:

• $923,576 for two pumper trucks for the Whitfield County Fire Department (to be funded from the 2020 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax).

• $69,314.80 for emergency sights and sirens for 10 Ford F-250 trucks for the Whitfield County Fire Department (to be funded with CARES Act money).

• $168,455 for an 1,800-square-foot building for the Animal Shelter.

• $57,994 for two Ford Explorer SUVs, one for the district attorney’s office and one for the county Engineering Department.

• $30,791 for a Ford F-250 crew cab pickup truck for the Public Works Department.

• $28,997 for a Ford Explorer SUV for the county building inspector.

But they can’t find $80,000 to help keep men, women and children from becoming homeless.

“We talked about it just a little, and as far as I know there’s no intentions of funding it this year,” Jones told a reporter of the possibility of helping to fund the Dalton-Whitfield Community Development Corp., which, as Interim Director Reed Fincher said, helps people across Whitfield County, not just those in the city of Dalton.

“I think the county looks at us as a charity,” Fincher said. “But we are a service provided to their residents. Keeping people off the streets makes for a better community.”

We agree.

We encourage the county commissioners to examine their priorities and to find the money to help deal with this impending homelessness that could see families ripped from their homes and cause immense pain and suffering for some of our neighbors.

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The Valdosta Daily Times on domestic violence incidents during the holiday season:

Sadly, during the holidays, law enforcement typically responds to the most incidents of domestic violence.

This should be a joyous time, when people spend special days and create memories with family and friends.

In many cases, however, the memories will not be pleasant ones.

Domestic violence is a problem everywhere, including Valdosta, Lowndes County and South Georgia.

During this time of year, a large percentage of 911 calls and law-enforcement responses are the result of domestic violence.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

— Every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted or beaten in the United States.

— An average of 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute in the U.S.

— There are more than 10 million abuse victims across the U.S. annually.

— One in three women and one in four men have been physically abused by an intimate partner.

— One in five women and one in seven men have been severely physically abused by an intimate partner.

— One in seven women and one in 18 men have been stalked. Stalking causes targets to fear they or someone close to them will be harmed or killed.

— On a typical day, domestic-violence hotlines nationwide receive approximately 20,800 calls.

— The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.

— Domestic violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.

— Domestic violence is most common among women between the ages of 18-24.

— Nineteen percent of domestic violence involves a weapon.

— Domestic victimization is correlated with a higher rate of depression and suicidal behavior.

— Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries.

The Haven provides services to area women who have suffered from domestic violence along with offering educational programs available to individuals and community groups throughout the year.

Schools in the Valdosta, Lowndes County and adjoining school districts have trained counseling professionals on staff to help young people address issues associated with violence in the home.

Our law-enforcement agencies have trained professionals who are often called upon to diffuse dangerous situations and to deal with victims in caring and sensitive ways.

Domestic violence knows no socio-economic, racial or geographical boundaries. It exists among all social groups and in every community.

Recurring domestic violence within families is something no one wants to discuss but it is a conversation that must take place. The culture needs to be changed and the cycle must be broken.

We encourage more public dialogue and more conversations among families, especially children, to make it clear that violence is not a solution to problems in relationships and is never the right way to express frustrations or anger.

Finally, we urge all of our readers to protect women and children and err on the side of caution by reporting suspected violence and abuse to law enforcement.

If you see something, say something.