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Mar 31, 2005

NGO, City agree on plan to improve mental care

Story PictureWe see them every day and continually ask why something cannot be done to improve the lives of Belize’s street people. Today one group of people came forward to say they will try. Patrick Jones reports.

Patrick Jones, Reporting
The problem of homelessness has been with us for a long time. But compounding the situation is that many of the homeless are people with mental problems. President of the Mental Health Association, Jennifer Lovell, says the agreement signed today with the City Council will help ease some of the burden.

Jennifer Lovell, President, Mental Health Association
?It?s a big step in the right direction. We?ve been saying as the mental health association, that we have to get out of this archaic thing of locking people away at Rockview. And that?s not where mental health is going anywhere in the world. We are moving towards community mental health. And so this resource centre marks the start of the help that people would receive that are already out of treatment or who probably need to get treatment but need some place to be during the day.?

Under the agreement, the MHA will lease lot 666 on Vernon Street near the Western Highway for fifty years, with a token one dollar per year being paid to the City Council. Secretary of the Association Kathy Esquivel says the goal is to construct a two story building on the property where patients will be able to access a variety of services.

Kathy Esquivel, Secretary, Mental Health Association
?The resource centre is not for people to live. There are other places. Some people are living with families and there are shelters. There is a need for assisted housing. But that is another project separate from this. And so the idea is people can go during the day, they can get a hot meal, they can get a bath. We will have occupational therapy, income generation, group therapy. There will be trained medical professionals. And so this is a resource centre; it?s for the day time.?

Esquivel says the plan is to start small and expand the level of care, depending on demand.

Kathy Esquivel
?We are planning the building to cater for a transient population of a hundred people. It doesn?t mean a hundred people will go every day. And it?s not compulsory. It?s for people to go if they want to. And we hope to have regular bus pickup runs because it?s a little way for some people to walk. But that?s all in the planning.?

The plan is to have the facility up and running by the middle of next year. The Association agreed today to have proposals for use of the property on the Mayor?s desk by the end of April. Estimates for running the facility are approximately fifty thousand dollars a year. Lovell says the community will need to help meet operational costs.

Jennifer Lovell
?Mental health has not been one of the burning issues in our country, unfortunately. In fact most people avoid dealing with anything that has to do with mental health. We see mental health simply as mental illness. Nobody thinks about it being that people do get well. So funding, to answer your question, we are going to be looking at donor agencies and public help.?

The building is expected to cost in the vicinity of two hundred thousand dollars to construct. Patrick Jones, for News 5.

The Mental Health Association started out in 1997 as a statutory board but was registered as an NGO in 2000. It is run by a twelve member board of directors comprising representatives of the public and private sectors and family members of people in need of mental health care.

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