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County Plan to Slash Mental Health Spending Met with Protest

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Local leaders decry effort to take $8 million from ADMHS, citing prevalance of problems.

Santa Barbara County’s proposed budget cut to mental health services drew plenty of protest Tuesday at City Hall in Santa Barbara. Community leaders and members of the mental health field rallied against the projected $8 million cut that will prevent more than 800 people from reaching the services on which they rely and leave about 80 mental health services workers jobless.

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On the steps of City Hall on Tuesday afternoon, heads of several local organizations serving the mentally disabled and the homeless, as well as local businesses and philanthropy organizations, spoke out to urge the county to look elsewhere for budget cuts, and to work with the state and other agencies to get past the budget crisis.

“I have never, in the last 20 years, heard of such drastic cuts as this,” said James DeVoe, a protester and recipient of the mental health services he’s relied on since he was 18 years old.

“Homelessness, unnecessary encounters with law enforcement and emergency medical services will increase,” said Annemarie Cameron, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Santa Barbara.

"I suggest that downtown merchants, the sheriff and Police Department, emergency rooms and perhaps even the morgue lay out their welcome mats to greet the victims of this plan.”

The county Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services has for some time been encountering higher costs of operation — more uninsured clients, more expensive medical services and medicines — which resulted in an approximately $7 million deficit that the department is now struggling to fill. A $2.3 million bailout only partially eased the strain, with the county leaning on the department to make more cuts to balance its budget.

The Board of Supervisors will conduct a hearing on the proposed cuts on April 22.

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