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TUNNEL VISIONCHARITABLE TELETHON HIDES ITS EYES FROM THE MENTALLY ILL HOMELESS

Channel 10 has a "Vision" of a happier Phoenix.
The station's "Share the Vision" campaign, the brain child of Channel 10 general manager Ron Bergamo, calls for the station to act as the Valley's dispenser of charity by providing public service programming aimed at solving Phoenix's more pressing crises, like transportation, child drownings and the homeless.

The feel-good approach was certainly evident during the August 25 "Help the Homeless tele-event," a four-hour telethon hosted by news anchor Dave Patterson, that raised more than $80,000 for homeless groups. For instance, the movie selected as part of the telethon was the sugar-coated Frank Capra film Pocketful of Miracles, a Damon Runyon-inspired rags-to-riches tale starring Bette Davis as a homeless woman on Broadway.

Advocates for the mentally ill, however, say the station's cheery "Vision" has a blind spot.

"Channel 10 ignored the mentally ill homeless during the telethon," Jeanette Hauser, the vice president of the North Valley Alliance for the Mentally Ill, says, "because they aren't a nice topic. People are afraid of the mentally ill, and so is Channel 10."

Hauser and representatives from state mental-health organizations charge they were turned away by station officials when they attempted to donate $200 to the telethon. The station refused to allow an on-air check presentation by the groups or to even discuss the problem of the mentally ill homeless on the air.

The advocates were especially irritated, given the size of the mentally ill homeless population. "Thirty to forty percent of the Phoenix homeless are seriously, chronically mentally ill," Hauser says. "Channel 10 said the subject wasn't really relevant. What does that tell you?"

While Sue Davis, the president of the state Alliance for the Mentally Ill chapter, says previously Channel 10 has been helpful in spotlighting the plight of the mentally ill, this time she thinks the station has brushed the problem under the rug. "The mentally ill are often bizarre in behavior and dress. Sometimes they smell because they don't have a place to clean up. They're not pretty," Davis says.

In other words, the mentally ill homeless are not telegenic.
Maybe, she suggests, that's the reason the upbeat Channel 10 telethon, except for a single mention, ignored this segment of the homeless population entirely.

Doug Drew, the telethon's executive producer, says that while the station didn't intentionally gloss over the mentally ill, it never considered discussing them, either. Drew defends the station, noting that Channel 10 has devoted several blocks of airtime to mental illness during the last year, and plans to do more programming of this kind in the future.

The alliance was drawn to the telethon after Hauser and others noticed that none of the groups working with Channel 10 to promote the event was connected with mental-illness issues. Alliance members approached the station, suggesting that that they be allowed to make a short presentation on the importance of treating the mentally ill homeless. The station refused.

Even when presented with the lure of a donation, Channel 10 didn't bite.
"We weren't even looking to get any money from the telethon. We just wanted the mentally ill mentioned," Hauser says.

Cassandra Larsen, KTSP-TV community relations director, maintains that the mental-health organizations weren't singled out for exclusion from the telethon, and says that the broadcast's format, which included taped and live segments during breaks from Pocketful of Miracles, wasn't suited for on-air check presentations. "We weren't targeting in on any one issue except the homeless in general," Larsen says, "and we didn't allow anybody to make live check presentations."

Hauser says she doesn't doubt the station's intentions. But she does question its methods. Just look at its selection of the movie shown during the telethon, she says, referring to the happy but unrealistic ending of the Capra picture--a far cry from the reality of life on the Phoenix streets. "The homeless aren't all people who just need some clothes and an even break to make it big," Hauser says. "Many need serious treatment. This movie, and the telethon, misled people about the homeless because it didn't reflect real life.

"I just can't get over it," she says. "A telethon talking about the homeless without mentioning the mentally ill? That's like talking about the sky without mentioning clouds."

"We weren't even looking to get any money from the telethon. We just wanted the mentally ill mentioned," Jeanette Hauser says.

"We weren't targeting in on any one issue except the homeless in general," Cassandra Larsen says.

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Darrin Hostetler