Praise & Resistance To New Law Allowing Patton State Hospital To House The Homeless

Governor Gavin Newsom’s signing of Assemblyman James Ramos’s AB 349 into law has earned plaudits while sparking expressions of concern that the marriage of multiple social solutions into a single facility designed for the specific purpose of incarcerating the criminally mentally ill will result in untoward outcomes.
Beginning operation in 1893 as the Southern California State Asylum for the Insane and Inebriates, Patton State Hospital was renamed in 1927 in honor of Harry Patton, a member of the facility’s first board of managers.
The state hospital was designed in keeping with the Kirkbride Plan, which called for a central administration building flanked by long wards to separately house male and female “inmates.”
Throughout its existence, the hospital has served as a treatment center for alcoholics, drug addicts, violent delusional criminals, sexually violent predators, those found not guilty by reason of insanity and epileptics, along with those suffering from mental and genetic disorders such as Down-syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, and dementia. Over the years, thousands of those deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial have been remanded to custody there.
It has held some very violent criminals, including Edward Charles Allaway, a custodian at Fullerton State University who killed seven students and professors on a shooting spree at his workplace in 1976; David Attias, who purposefully ran down five pedestrians, killing four and critically injuring the other, in Isla Vista in 2001; Serial killer Nathan Nicholas Trupp, who murdered five known victims; Richard Turley, a Boy Scout leader who had molested youths in the troops he led; Chris Clarke, who in 1985 killed his fiancee after becoming convinced “she was trying to lead me into the devil’s brigade.”There is serious debate as to the proper way to refer to those who are housed at Patton State Hospital. Those who use the term “inmate,” can be subjected by some to harsh verbal rebuke for not using the preferred term “patient.” Those who use the term “patient” can be derided by others who insist that those committed to the institution are “inmates.”
Under Assembly Bill 349, those portions of Patton State Hospital that are not in use as a state mental ward are to become available in January 2024 for housing San Bernardino County’s homeless population. Existing buildings can be converted to homeless shelters and the undeveloped space there can be used to accommodate newly erected residences for the dispossessed.
Assemblyman Ramos said, “I am gratified that the governor approved my bill which provides an opportunity to create a vitally needed new regional resource to address the needs of our homeless. Addressing this need demands collaboration. No one level of government or organization can solve the issue alone.”
Originally established on a site comprising 360 acres and once having been limited to a licensed bed capacity of 1,287, Patton State Hospital now lodges 1,550 patients. The facility has the capacity to house more, and the grounds could accommodate more buildings and facilities.
The was no opposition in the legislature to AB 349.
The availability of the grounds for providing housing and mental health services to homeless residents has been hailed by a wide cross section of local officials and homeless advocates.
San Bernardino Mayor Helen Tran said, “With the signing of AB 349, the City of San Bernardino and our neighboring cities now have a solution we can pursue to assist homeless individuals in need of mental health treatment. This has been one of the biggest challenges to addressing our homeless population, and we are grateful to Assemblymember Ramos for introducing this bill and Governor Newsom for signing it.”
AB 349 is supported by the Family Assistance Program, the Military Officers Association of America, Clay Counseling, the Garcia Center for the Arts, Highlanders Boxing Club, Inland Southern California United Way, the San Bernardino County Medical Society, the Time for Change Foundation and the Urban Conservation Corps of the Inland Empire.
Some believe that placing a homeless shelter on government-owned property will prevent opposition to locating a shelter in the community.
Others, however, see blurring the distinctions between providing assistance to the homeless, providing care for the mentally ill and incarcerating the criminally insane as a hazardous proposition.
John Marquez, a local resident, said, “I am deeply concerned about the potential consequences of co-locating homeless individuals with elderly patients in a mental health treatment setting. The needs of these two groups are vastly different and combining them in the same facility could lead to conflicts, safety concerns, and inadequate care for both populations.”
Marguez said, “Patton State Hospital also treats those deemed incompetent to stand trial such as criminal offenders with mental health disorders as well as subjects who are found to be not guilty by reason of insanity. Elderly individuals may require specialized care that caters to their medical and cognitive needs, while homeless individuals may require more comprehensive and holistic approaches to address their unique challenges, including social support systems, addiction recovery services, and pathways to stable housing. Housing homeless individuals at Patton State Hospital, which traditionally serves as a mental health facility, raises questions about the appropriateness of the environment for individuals who do not have severe mental illnesses. Placing homeless individuals in a facility designed for psychiatric treatment might inadvertently stigmatize them and exacerbate the social challenges they already face. It is essential to consider alternative approaches that prioritize creating safe and supportive environments specifically tailored to the needs of homeless individuals. Additionally, elderly people may view treatment at Patton State Hospital as a step towards being committed by the judicial system for treatment. Beyond that, AB 349 might inadvertently divert resources away from improving and expanding dedicated homeless shelters, transitional housing programs, and community-based mental health services. These resources are crucial for addressing the underlying causes of homelessness and mental health challenges, and redirecting them to a single facility could limit the effectiveness of broader solutions.”
Marquez said, “Lawmakers need to consider a more nuanced and comprehensive approach that includes input from a diverse range of stakeholders, including experts in homelessness, mental health, social services, and community organizations. We need solutions that address the root causes of homelessness and mental health issues while respecting the dignity and unique needs of each affected individual.”
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply