Allen Superior Court Judge Andrew S. Williams on Monday said he is committed to working with the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission on cases where mental illness and homelessness collide.
The remarks came during a news conference at the Rescue Mission to draw attention to the problem of mental illness among homeless people.
Williams, who gets involved in noncriminal cases requiring involuntary commitments, said homelessness and mental illness “are intertwined” and communities must break down barriers to treatment.
“The mental illness stigma, while it has decreased ... it is still there,” he said. “People are still afraid to ask for help.”
With the Rescue Mission working with the courts, “I am confident that we can break barriers ... and change lives in this community,” Williams said.
Pastor Donovan Coley, the mission's president and chief executive officer, said the mission has 24 beds for those with chronic mental illness. After an immediate consultation, they can be placed in a facility where they can get treatment.
In addition, the mission has six respite care beds so those discharged from the hospital or other treatment can get care from an on-site nurse, he said.
“What the judge can do is to use his authority to extend the time for evaluation and collaboration,” Coley added, so the person doesn't get caught in a cycle of release and readmission.
“We call it continuity of care,” he said.
Not everyone who is homeless has mental illness, and not everyone who is mentally ill is homeless, the judge said.
Nonetheless, the number court cases involving people with mental illness has increased dramatically, he said – from a little more than 800 cases in 2015 to 1,800 in 2020.
This year, “we are on pace to have 2,100 case filings,” Williams said.
“Why these are going up so dramatically, we aren't sure,” Williams said.
But everyone who deals with mental illness – including police and first responders, nonprofit groups, health care providers and the courts – “must be on the same page,” he continued.
“We can accomplish more by working together.”