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CNN Today

California Launches New Offensive on Behalf of Mentally Ill

Aired March 13, 2000 - 2:22 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The state of California has launched a new offensive on behalf of the mentally ill.

As CNN's Rusty Dornin reports from Sacramento, state health officials are pounding the pavement, offering help that's usually needed more than it's wanted.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They look for people, that often nobody wants, in places few people would ever go.

DEPUTY MATT REALI, PROJECT HOPE: Hey guys, how are you?

DORNIN: Some call it a mission impossible. Members of Project Hope, an experimental program in California, search out the homeless that are mentally ill and convince them to come in for treatment.

REALI: They are hard to treat because there are -- a lot of them are paranoid and many of them don't know how to go about finding those services.

Where did you sleep last night?

BETTY SLAYTON, HOMELESS: Under my leaky tarp.

DORNIN: Sixty-two-year-old Betty Slayton hasn't trusted anyone for years. On the streets since she was 42, Slayton fears that people are trying to poison her. The Project Hope team tries to talk her into coming in from the cold.

REALI: You're very important to us. That's why we come back out here and make sure you are safe.

DORNIN: California began releasing the less-seriously mentally ill from institutions in the '60s. The hope was they'd get help in their own communities. But experts say services for them were never adequately developed. Now, there are tens of thousands mentally ill homeless on the streets here.

REALI: How have you been?

DORNIN: Deputy Matt Reali of the Sacramento Sheriff's Department and his team offer options. REALI: We try and calm them down, offer a hand, shake their hands, let them know who we are, and introduce ourselves, and let them know what we're here to do.

You know, there's nothing we can do for now to get you off the streets, huh? It's freezing out here. I'm freezing right now.

DORNIN (on camera): When the team first approaches folks on the street, the answer to the question, "Do you need any help?" is usually "No." It takes tenacity, and the team comes back again and again.

(voice-over): Steve Anderson was on the streets and suffered from paranoia, depression and anxiety. Now, under psychiatric care and on medication, he works part time.

STEVE ANDERSON, FORMERLY HOMELESS: It's a foot in the door to get back in the mainstream.

REALI: If you find out that you need help, you can just call us.

DORNIN: Reali says just getting people into shelters doesn't solve much. If they're abusing drugs or alcohol, the efforts are to get them into rehab.

On this day, they've talked Betty into coming in for help.

SLAYTON: I've had a lot of hardship, and it's not safe out here.

DORNIN: California's governor wants to double the $10 million funding for the program.

SLAYTON: Yes, that's how.

REALI: Is that good?

DORNIN: Here, success is measured one step at a time.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, Sacramento, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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