What can I say about Proposition 1

It’s hard to know how to vote—unless you’re adamantly against the state taking out a $6.4 billion bond to build more places where people can get mental health care and substance abuse treatment and more housing for people with health and substance abuse challenges. 

Sounds like a problem we should be addressing, right? Sounds like something everyone—especially people in county behavioral health departments—should get behind. But, like any good situationship, it’s complicated. 

Why? The relationship between homelessness and housing isn’t straightforward. This measure is Gov. Gavin Newsom’s baby, which he’s proposing as a “fix” to a problem that intensified exponentially under his watch (thanks, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic). 

“We are facing a confluence of crises: Mental health, opioids, housing, and homelessness—and this transformation effort will ensure California is tackling these head-on in a comprehensive and inclusive way,” Newsom said in a statement about his situationship solution.

Proposition 1 also wants your approval to reallocate the funding generated through the Mental Health Services Act. This act is funded by a 1 percent tax on people with incomes of more than $1 million per year and raises between $2 billion and $3.5 billion annually, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. About 95 percent of that currently goes to counties, which use it to provide mental health services. 

If the proposition passes, the state will get about 10 percent and counties 90 percent. However, it would also require counties to spend more of the funding they receive on housing and personalized support services, meaning counties would have less money for some of the mental health programs that currently exist. 

It also places more of a focus on stabilizing those who are most impacted by their conditions (aka, the chronically homeless who suffer from substance abuse disorder and severe mental health issues) and less on early intervention. 

In Santa Barbara County, this presents an estimated 58 percent decrease in funding for outpatient treatment and crisis services with a 30 percent increase in the population it will need to serve, county Behavioral Wellness Director Toni Navarro said. In SLO County, Behavioral Health Deputy Director Frank Warren said the programs currently operated under the act could lose up to two-thirds of their funding. 

Both said that building housing would be a good thing. Duh! They can’t really talk smack about a measure that aims to house chronically homeless people! 

“Housing is the best way to get them treated and keep them sustaining their treatment, so we’re excited about that,” Warren said. “We’ll just be forced to make some really tough decisions.” 

Doesn’t it seem like we’re trying to do too much with one measure?

We’d be throwing a baby out with the bathwater and having a new one by focusing on the most at-risk population at the expense of the people who need that funding so they don’t become chronically homeless. 

We need housing. We need more inpatient beds. We need to provide better mental health services. Those are facts. I’m not sure taking money away from some mental health services to provide for others is the way to do all of that.

The Canary is crazed and confused. Send thoughts to [email protected].

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