By David M. Greenwald
San Diego – This week, Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a 2024 ballot initiative to improve how California treats mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness as a next step to modernize how California treats these conditions.
“This is the next step in our transformation of how California addresses mental illness, substance use disorders, and homelessness – creating thousands of new beds, building more housing, expanding services, and more,” the Governor said. “People who are struggling with these issues, especially those who are on the streets or in other vulnerable conditions, will have more resources to get the help they need.”
In his State of the State letter, he called homelessness and mental health “the most pressing, intertwined challenges our state faces.”
He said, “We will REBUILD our system of mental and behavioral health, finally delivering on the commitment made more than 60 years ago, when California closed its mental health institutions amid a promise to provide more humane, community-based care.
“That promise went unfulfilled for decades, as public funding for mental health services dried up, and many people were left to fend for themselves, left to find shelter outdoors, in jails, and cycling through hospitals.”
The governor explained, “This failure has hit our veterans especially hard, as they face the highest rates of suicide and homelessness.”
The governor called for a 2024 ballot measure that would authorize a general obligation bond.
The bond would “[b]uild thousands of new community behavioral health beds in state-of-the-art residential settings to house Californians with mental illness and substance use disorders, which could serve over 10,000 people every year in residential-style settings that have on-site services – not in institutions of the past, but locations where people can truly heal.”
It would also, “Provide more funding specifically for housing for homeless veterans.”
The measure would amend the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) “leading to at least $1 billion every year in local assistance for housing and residential services for people experiencing mental illness and substance use disorders, and allowing MHSA funds to serve people with substance use disorders.”
As the governor explained, “In 2004, California voters passed the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), which requires every county in the state to offer a core set of services that today helps keep some 80,000 Californians off the streets, out of jails, and out of expensive hospital care.”
The governor is now proposing critical changes to the MHSA including: “Creating a permanent source of housing funding of $1 billion a year in local assistance funds to serve people with acute behavioral health issues, focusing on Full Service Partnerships for the most seriously ill; and allowing MHSA to be used for people with substance use disorders alone.”
“Now, it is time to modernize the MHSA so it can better meet today’s challenges—requiring that locals guarantee at least $1 billion of those funds every year for housing those with mental illness and substance use disorders,” Newsom said.
“But we must do more,” he continued. “We need to build the housing and care facilities required throughout our state to treat people who are struggling with mental illness and offer specific help to our veterans who are more likely to experience homelessness.”
Governor Newsom explained, “I am asking for your partnership to place a new measure on the November 2024 ballot that would transform how California treats mental illness and offer new support for thousands of veterans. In addition to ensuring no less than 30 percent of existing MHSA funds are spent on housing, we need a new bond measure that will create thousands of new beds to care for those with behavioral health and substance use issues.”
He called this “a moral imperative.”
He said, “It means building on the work we have already done—investing billions in behavioral health for young kids and young adults up to age 26 to treat brain health early, before we punish it later. Creating career pathways and training for 40,000 new mental health workers to treat and care for those who need services. Prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable through Care Courts.”
He added, “This ballot measure is the next essential step—an important missing piece in our fight against homelessness. It will make our streets and communities safer and help us build the capacity to treat those who are sick or suffering with dignity and respect.”