California urges voters to approve new mental health beds

SAN DIEGO — California voters would choose whether to fund a major expansion of housing and treatment for residents suffering from mental illness and addiction as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent proposal to address the state’s homelessness crisis.

Newsom announced Sunday that he would ask allies in the Democrat-controlled Legislature for action in the 2024 vote to authorize funding to build residential facilities that could house and treat over 10,000 people a year. The plan is the latest from the governor, who took office in 2019 and vowed to tackle homelessness in a state where an estimated 171,000 people were homeless last year.

“This is the next step in our transformation of how California addresses mental illness, substance use disorders and homelessness – adding thousands of new beds, building more housing, expanding services and more,” Newsom said in a statement.

California, home to nearly 40 million people, has nearly a third of the country’s homeless population, and their number is growing much faster than other states, according to an analysis of federal data by the Public Policy Institute of California. Tent camps have sprung up on sidewalks and under freeway overpasses across California, and people in clear mental health crisis are a common sight on city streets.

The initiative would be funded in part by general bonds, which would be used to build “campus-style” facilities along with smaller homes and long-term living environments, Newsom’s office said.

In addition, it would revise California’s Mental Health Services Act, an initiative passed by voters in 2004 that imposes a 1% tax on incomes of more than $1 million to fund mental health services. Some lawmakers complained that money from the initiative was bypassing those who needed it most, and Newsom’s office said the new version would improve accountability and oversight for counties.

“The modernization will result in $1 billion each year for housing, substance abuse disorder treatment and more,” the statement said.

State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, will introduce the measure, which said it would also provide money to house more than 10,000 homeless veterans across the state.

Newsom planned to provide more details during a stop Sunday afternoon in San Diego, his office said. The governor is in the middle of a five-day nationwide tour that he is using to highlight his key policy objectives. The tour replaced a traditional State of the State address.

On Thursday, Newsom announced a plan to spend about $30 million to build 1,200 tiny homes across the state to help people living on the streets. The houses can be assembled quickly and cost a fraction of what it takes to build permanent houses. Federal courts have ruled that cities cannot vacate homeless camps if emergency shelters are not available.

Newsom will travel to Imperial County Monday to discuss how California is poised to become a global leader in electric vehicles and clean energy, his office said.

The governor’s swing through California comes at a challenging time for the state. After several years of prosperity in Sacramento, California has an estimated $22.5 billion deficit, with government revenues falling as the stock market slows.

Recent polls show that half of California voters believe the heavily Democratic state is headed in the wrong direction, including a majority of independents. And after years of growth, the state’s population has fallen as people look elsewhere for more affordable housing and a better quality of life.

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