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Minister addresses homeless issue

The Rev. David Maynard knows none of us like to accosted by a homeless street person who may be struggling with a mental illness.

'Homeless people are often uncomfortable to be around,' he says. 'The fact that we're uncomfortable doesn't mean we don't have the obligation to reach out to them.'

Maynard, minister of Eastrose Fellowship Unitarian Universalist Church, 1133 N.E.181st Ave., Gresham, will give a sermon on the subject of homeless people and mental illness at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, March 25.

A minister for more than three decades, he says mental illness is the hidden side of homelessness, not to mention the lives of some churchgoers.

'I've always had one or two (congregation) members dealing with mental illness in their families,' he says. 'They're usually very quiet about it.'

But the minister wants to open up the discussion and says he plans to use Stephen B. Seager's book 'Street Crazy: America's Mental Health Tragedy' as a source for his sermon. The author's Web site at www.streetcrazy.com states that 'Street Crazy' details Seager's experiences as a psychiatrist working with the mentally ill, who often have become homeless because of their disease.

'According to different sources, one-third to one-half of the homeless population is chronically mentally ill,' Seager writes, adding: 'Across the nation, scores of mentally sick persons are judicially removed from hospitals and let out into the streets to care for themselves despite repeated episodes demonstrating that they clearly can't do this.'

Taking a page from Seager's book, Maynard says U.S. society, in a misguided attempt not to violate the civil rights of homeless people, has often allowed those with mental illnesses to languish on the streets without proper medical care. Yet, he says, society doesn't apply the same logic to people with such diseases as tuberculosis, who can be quarantined against their will.

'People who are mentally ill could be referred to medical boards to assess their need for treatment and the likelihood of their responding,' he says. 'The courts could monitor their progress, while assuring that their civil liberties are restored as quickly as possible.'

Maynard wants people of faith to stand up for people with mental illness who find themselves homeless.

'I think we need to tell our legislators and our court system that it is a moral issue if we're not providing treatment to people who are sick,' he says.

Maynard's own congregation is dedicated to helping the homeless, regardless of what event put them on the street, he says.

According to the Eastrose Web site, the church is a founding member of Snow-CAP, an association of churches providing food and clothing to families in need in East Multnomah County since 1967. Eastrose contributes money, food, supplies and other needed items to Snow-CAP each month.

Eastrose is also one of the supporting churches of Daybreak Shelter, overseen by Human Solutions Inc., in collaboration with 24 area churches and synagogues. Eastrose contributes money and food each month to Daybreak.

Warren James, chairman of Eastrose's social justice committee, says the congregation has collected such items as clothes and bus tickets for the homeless.

He also says the congregation can provide referrals to various agencies like Snow-CAP and Human Solutions that serve the homeless.

'We believe in helping the neighborhood,' he says. 'That's one reason we congregate, so that we can be active and find solutions to the homeless problem.'

For more information on Eastrose, call 503-665-2628, or visit www.eastrose.org; on Snow-CAP, call 503-674-8785; and on Human Solutions, call 503-988-4531 in Gresham, and 503-548-0200 in Portland.