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EDITORIAL: Where is California's comprehensive mental health plan, governor?

Contra Costa Times - 3/25/2023

Mar. 25—California needs a comprehensive plan to solve its growing mental health problem.

The current piecemeal approach is creating confusion among city, county and state leaders while thousands of mentally ill people wander the streets, failing to receive the help or housing they desperately need.

The situation calls for Gavin Newsom to provide the leadership Californians expect from their governor. What they're getting instead is bureaucratic chaos lacking in accountability.

On March 19, Newsom unveiled his latest proposal, calling for a bond measure that would raise $3 billion to fund housing for the mentally ill. The governor also wants to divert another $1 billion a year from an existing voter-approved mental health tax.

The idea has merit. So does Newsom's Care Court plan, which was signed into law in 2022 and is designed to make it easier to place severely mentally ill Californians into psychiatric treatment and housing.

But it's not clear how Newsom's plans fit into a comprehensive approach, especially because it's painfully obvious that, on their own, they will fall short of providing the long-term funding necessary. And without a statewide plan, there will be no end to the infighting between cities, counties and legislators that is hindering the effort to help the mentally ill.

Newsom's proposals lack a dedicated source of annual funding to build the necessary housing for homeless mentally ill people. And they're missing the necessary staffing and services to provide needed treatment. The problem is compounded by the fact that caring for the mentally ill is a challenging job that doesn't pay well and is subject to high turnover.

The California State Association of Counties is working to fill the leadership void Newsom has left. Housing is largely seen as a problem for California's cities. But it is the state's 58 counties that provide health care and services for the mentally ill and work with cities on housing challenges.

On Friday, CSAC released a comprehensive plan designed to develop clear lines of responsibility and accountability at every level of government for addressing homelessness. The goal is to organize the way California collectively responds to those who are unhoused or at risk of becoming unhoused, including the mentally ill.

Work remains to flesh out the proposal, which is the sort of approach that should have been developed years ago at the state level. In April, CSAC will meet with League of California Cities leaders to develop a united strategy. They will also reach out to state leaders in Sacramento to find common ground.

California's homeless population is estimated at 200,000 and growing. The numbers vary, but an estimated 30% — or roughly 60,000 — suffer from severe mental illness.

They and their loved ones deserve better from California. Developing a comprehensive plan to address the problem would improve the lives of the mentally ill and those who live and work in our cities.


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