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California to ask voters to approve new mental health beds

Gavin Newsom
Posted at 1:31 PM, Mar 19, 2023

SAN DIEGO (AP) — California voters would decide whether to fund a major expansion of housing and treatment for residents suffering from mental illness and addiction, under the latest proposal by Gov. Gavin Newsom to address the state's homelessness crisis.

Newsom announced Sunday that he will ask allies in the Democratic-controlled Legislature for a measure on the 2024 ballot to authorize funding to build residential facilities where over 10,000 people a year could live and be treated. The plan is the latest by the governor who took office in 2019 vowing to own the issue of homelessness in a state where an estimated 171,000 were unhoused last year.

“This is the next step in our transformation of how California addresses mental illness, substance use disorder and homelessness — creating 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 one-third of the nation’s homeless population, and their numbers are growing much faster than in other states, according to an analysis of federal data by the Public Policy Institute of California. Tent encampments have popped 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 partially funded by general obligation bonds that would go toward construction of “campus-style” facilities along with smaller homes and long-term residential settings, Newsom's office said.

In addition, it would overhaul California's Mental Health Services Act, an initiative approved by voters in 2004 that charges a 1% tax on incomes greater than $1 million to fund mental health services. Some lawmakers complained that money from the initiative bypassed those who needed it the most, and Newsom's office said the new version would improve accountability and oversight for counties.

"Modernizing it will lead to $1 billion every year for housing, treating substance abuse disorders, and more," the statement said.

State Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, will introduce the measure, which would also earmark money to house more than 10,000 homeless veterans across the state, according to the statement.

Newsom planned to unveil further details during a stop Sunday afternoon in San Diego, according to his office. The governor is in the midst of a five-day statewide tour that he's using to highlight his major policy goals. 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 small homes across the state to help house people living on the streets. The homes can be assembled quickly and cost a fraction of what it takes to build permanent housing. Federal courts have ruled cities can’t clear homeless encampments if there are no shelter beds available.

Newsom will travel Monday to Imperial County 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 amid challenging times for the state. After several flush years in Sacramento, California has an estimated $22.5 billion deficit, with state revenues falling as the stock market slows.

Recent polling shows 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 been dropping as people look elsewhere for more affordable homes and a better quality of life.