Following concerns from South Shore residents, the South Lake Tahoe Senior Center may be heading back to its roots as a place for seniors to eat, recreate and socialize.
What will happen to mental health patients who have used the facility for about the past year and a half was unclear following a Tuesday decision by the South Lake Tahoe City Council.
The Council voted to invalidate a January 2012 agreement with El Dorado County that allowed the county to use about a third of the building for mental health services. The document was never ratified with the signature of the mayor or council member, according to a city staff report.
Dozens of seniors who use the more than 25-year-old facility attended the meeting. Many said they are upset with the use of the center by mental health patients. Concerns ranged from safety to lack of recreation and storage space, to dirty bathrooms to alleged vandalism and drug use at the center because of the agreement with the county.
“They are not a fit group to be there,” said Ken Sands, president of the Tahoe Basin Senior Center Committee, Inc., the group that spurred creation of the center.
As part of Tuesday’s vote, the council gave the county until June 30 to figure out where mental health patients who receive counseling and attend support groups at the facility can go.
“And then, July 1, we change the locks,” said Mayor Tom Davis prior to the vote.
Diana Hankins, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness South Lake Tahoe, said the facility has been used by 15-20 mental health patients since early 2012 for support groups that teach living skills while also fostering friendships among people who may otherwise not socialize. She disputed contentions that the patients who receive mental health services at the center are causing the issues brought up Tuesday. With the county’s mental health services focused in Placerville, she wondered where those receiving services at the South Shore today will go if they can’t go to the Senior Center.
“This town is just trying to get rid of mental health as far as I’m concerned,” Hankins said.
El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago said the county is negotiating to move the mental health offerings provided at center. Where they would move is unknown.
“I am sympathetic to all involved; clients and families of our mental health residents and our respected seniors,” Santiago said in an email. “Everyone deserves to be valued, heard and provided safe and productive places to gather.”
Santiago also recognized the contribution the seniors’ group has made to the building over the course of 30 years.
“They have earned and deserve their special place,” Santiago said.
Although the issue has not been scheduled for a hearing by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, Sands said he expected supervisors to discuss the issue May 23 in Placerville.