On Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a ballot proposal that would fund housing for people with mental illness, the latest chapter in California’s half-century fight against homelessness and mental health.
As part of the move, bonds will be issued to raise up to $5 billion to build campus-like facilities where patients can walk from apartments to treatment centers, as well as cottages that also have mental illness and substance abuse treatment programs nearby. The money will also be used to build permanent housing for the homeless with mental illness.
“We need to come to terms with the reality of mental health in this state,” Newsom said during a press conference Sunday at Alvarado Hospital Medical Center in San Diego. “It’s unacceptable that we’re dealing with this issue on the scale that we’re having in the state of California right now.”
The plan marks the reversal of still-controversial reforms begun in the 1960s when the law was signed into law by the then governor. Ronald Reagan sought to preserve the civil rights of the mentally ill. In the following years, tens of thousands of Californians left institutions without proper support. Meanwhile homelessness was on the rise
Break with the past
Newsom’s proposal would not rebuild mental health facilities of the past, his statement said, but would instead create various types of facilities, including residential complexes with on-site treatment facilities, “cottage facilities” where residents would use outside services, and long-term facilities. . temporary support housing where residents will live something like a normal life. The bond financing will also build housing specifically for military veterans, who make up more than 10,000 homeless people in California, Newsom said in a statement.
California’s lack of success in addressing endemic homelessness, which has risen steadily from its 2020 level of more than 161,000 during the coronavirus lockdown, was found in a 2018 United Nations report to be a violation of international human rights law.
Newsom’s failure to address the issue in his early years as governor formed the basis of calls to rally behind his removal from office during the 2021 recall campaign. It was the same year that California’s auditor criticized the state’s scattered and inefficient $13 billion spending on the homeless over the previous three years.
Newsom’s public criticism has focused on the growing influence of homeless camps on middle-class Californians. But experts have long recognized the inextricable link between mental health and housing.
Homelessness and mental health are linked
According to one 2021 study, 21% of homeless people report serious mental illness, compared to 5% in the general US population. Meanwhile, life on the street can exacerbate certain mental conditions, such as depression and anxiety, and make it harder for people to access treatment and support.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, California has the highest rate of homelessness in the country, and there are about 8,000 homeless people in San Francisco alone.
Over the years, California has tried to build more affordable housing, increase funding for mental health services, and provide case management and support for the homeless. However, progress was slow and the problem continued to worsen.
Governor Newsom has made addressing homelessness a priority since taking office in 2019. He proposed a number of initiatives to increase housing and services for the homeless, including a 2021 plan to spend $12 billion to address homelessness and mental health.
On Sunday, Newsom said the mental health issue is personal to him, noting that social isolation is the leading cause of death in America.
“I just lost someone I went to prom with, committed suicide a couple of weeks ago,” he said, adding that he also lost a grandfather to the suicide. “He came back, a prisoner of war, a completely different person,” Newsom said.
Newsom’s Sunday announcement received praise from Raphael Mandelman, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who has pushed for better treatment programs for the city’s mentally ill residents.
“Thanks to Gavin Newsom for proposing a significant step towards more direct government responsibility for the humanitarian crisis of untreated mental illness and addiction unfolding on our streets,” Mandelman wrote in a Sunday tweet.
Matt Smith can be reached in [email protected]