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Lack of Affordable Housing Conversation Dominates Cascade Mental Health Care's Forum

The Chronicle - 12/20/2018

Dec. 20--The lack of affordable housing and its contribution to mental health issues in Lewis County repeatedly arose at Cascade Mental Health Care's 5th Annual Legislative and Governmental Forum on Tuesday evening.

"The reality of it is, is that substance use and mental health touches every single one of us," said Richard Stride, chief executive officer of Cascade Mental Health Care. "There's not one of us that has not had a friend, a family member, a spouse, a child -- not one of us -- that hasn't been touched by that. These are real issues and we deal with that in Lewis County all the time.

Local legislators and elected officials took audience questions from people who work in social service organizations and agencies in Lewis County. Cascade encouraged people to limit their questions to behavioral health or social services.

Patrick Morrison was one of about 10 audience members who addressed the panel. Morrison is a domestic violence and sexual assault advocate for Human Response Network.

"It may not seem like a domestic violence issue, but it's housing, especially affordable housing," Morrison said. "We have a lot of our clients who are staying in abusive relationships because they have nowhere to go. Even those folks who get out ... finding a place to live is difficult and many of them are spending at least 50 percent of their income on rent and utilities, which is just not sustainable."

State Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama) said it was important to determine if a person was homeless due to substance abuse issues, mental health issues and what was just a simple lack of affordable housing. He noted that the legislators need a better understanding of where the need is.

After the forum, State Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) said the lack of affordable housing made recovery more difficult for people with substance abuse and mental health issues.

"There's not a causal relationship, but there is a recovery problem," Braun said. "You have a mental health challenge, you have a substance abuse challenge, you get services to help you work through that challenge. ... The sheer cost of housing makes it difficult, or in many cases impossible, to re-enter and have a place to live so you can start to rebuild your life."

Braun said that while he wasn't expecting that number of housing-related questions, he wasn't surprised.

"Housing is a real problem in our state in general," Braun said. "It could be a whole separate discussion besides this, but they are definitely connected in some way. But I would say the housing problem goes outside just the mental health connection."

After the forum, Orcutt said he didn't know if the two are related.

"I'm not the expert on this," Orcutt said. "I was here to learn. I don't know what the cause and effect is there. That would be a better questions for the people who are presenting."

Orcutt said he believes the most important part of Tuesday's forum was to establish working relationships with organizations and agencies the legislators haven't had before, and to strengthen the ones that are already in place.

"I think the largest takeaway is that we've got more work to do to be truly effective at solving the problems that folks in Lewis County have," Orcutt said. "We've got to look at what are barriers to providing the services, what improvements do we need to make just as a policy situation to enable them to better provide services. It's not always about the money, although the funding is important."

This was the first year that Cascade Mental Health Care implemented a "town hall" style discussion. Stride previously told The Chronicle that panel members have said they wanted more of a chance to respond to audience questions in previous years.

Roughly 10 people from local service groups or agencies addressed the panel.

The panel included Braun, Orcutt, Sen. Dean Takko (D-Longview); Lewis County commissioner Edna Fund and sheriff Rob Snaza; and Centralia City Council member Peter Abbarno.

Rep. Brian Blake (D-Longview) had a name card on the table, but did not attend. Reps. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) and Richard DeBolt (R-Chehalis) also did not attend.


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