Homelessness, mental illness issues addressed at public forum

More forums

• Aug. 31: Crisis training for dealing with mental illness

• Sept. 28: A look at issues of mental illness and homelessness specific to Lawrence

• Nov. 30: Recap of forum series focusing on possible solutions resulting from the series dialogue

All forums are at 7 p.m. at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt. For more information, contact Steve Ozark at 785-760-3143 or by e-mail at oztalent@aol.com.

Area residents struggling with mental illness and homelessness had the opportunity to share their experiences at a forum Monday night at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.

The forum, which was the first of a four-part series on homelessness and mental illness, was organized by the Coalition on Homeless Concerns and the Recovery and Hope Network, an area agency that assists those with mental illnesses.

The aim of the forum was trying to help the public understand the complex dynamic of mental illness and homelessness, said Steve Ozark, organizer and vice chairman of the Coalition on Homeless Concerns.

“We’re here to educate; we’re here to demystify,” Ozark said.

Forum participant Ed Maupin, who has been homeless multiple times in his life, said he’s benefited from the social services in Lawrence, but that there remain gaps in helping the mentally ill find permanent housing.

“I think the public needs to know that there are people falling through the cracks,” he said.

The cracks keep widening, and more people in Lawrence are falling through them, with the closing of the Salvation Army’s overnight shelter and overcrowding at the Lawrence Community Shelter, Maupin said.

“Right now it’s bad. They (the homeless) don’t have anywhere else to go,” Maupin said.

And while the input of advocates and other community members regarding solutions to assisting the mentally ill homeless population in Lawrence is important, hearing from those who know the issue firsthand is also needed, said forum participant Lesa Weller.

“Those voices are the experts. They know what it’s like to be homeless and mentally ill,” said Weller, who is now the director at the Recovery and Hope Network, but was once homeless while dealing with a mental illness.

Weller said she hopes the experiences shared by those at Monday’s forum, as well as at the three remaining forums, will assist the community in working toward solutions to the problems of mental illness and homelessness in Lawrence.