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Storms may cause hardship for mental health patients in Okaloosa County

Storms may cause hardship for mental health patients in Okaloosa County

Okaloosa County is ranked the worst in the 18-county Big Bend region of Florida in meeting the needs of the mentally ill per the Fort Walton Beach City Council agenda.

The Fort Walton Beach City Council and local members of the state legislature will put their heads together to solve the problem.

They are supporting a bill to help create a mental health intake facility for homeless and mentally ill people.

Many of the homeless in Okaloosa County spend a lot of time at the Fort Walton Beach Landing.

It's these people the bill, and the city of Fort Walton Beach, wants to get into rehabilitation for mental health or drug problems.

However, they worry funding may not be available this year.

Most days of the week, Randy Sloan sits in his old gold minivan and chain smokes cigarettes in the parking lot of the Fort Walton Beach Landing.

It wasn't too long ago, he was one of the homeless people living near the park.

"Seen it repeatedly," Sloan said. "Seen people here for several years and you think, 'they're just going to waste away and be the next one that dies.'"

The bill, introduced by Representative Mel Ponder and State Senator George Gainer in the 2018 session would provide $2 million to create a state-run facility for drug-addicted or mentally ill people to avoid jail, detox, and get other treatment they need.

Randy likes the idea, but favors a proactive approach.

"Their sickness keeps them from coming to you. So, you got to go out to them, if you are going to spend the money, spend the money to have someone go out to them on a regular basis," Sloan said.

The bill, as written, would, per City Manager Michael Beedie, reduce the strain on the jail by keeping frequent arrestees out of lockup.

"Right now, we have a serious problem. A lot of individuals that get arrested, they go straight to, when they really need some sort of help, whether its meds or detox, you name it," Beedie said.

But recovery costs associated with Hurricanes Irma and Nate temper his optimism; he's not sure the program would get the full funding it needs.

"We're hoping, we'd love to get the full $2 million, but we're just hoping to get something," Beedie said.

All Randy can do is hope the guys he sees daily will soon get the help they need.

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