People in California vote on governor says he must address homelessness

Sacramento — The governor is promoting a statewide ballot proposition that would be the first substantial mental health system upgrade in 20 years and address homelessness. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom believes Proposition 1 will increase housing and substance use treatment investments to combat homelessness, while social providers worry it could harm services that prevent homelessness.

“The status quo is not acceptable,” Newsom said Monday at a measure promotion event. Republican Darlene Farnum, a retired salesperson from Fountain Valley, California, voted for the measure Tuesday despite Newsom's support, whom she disagrees with on almost everything else.

“We need to do something besides letting people die and be homeless,” she remarked. Costa Mesa Democrat and retired civil engineer Mark Ludlow voted “yes” on the measure. “It just seems like they’ve kind of been left by the wayside, and they need help,” he said.

The legislation would limit how counties use money from a 2004 voter-approved millionaire tax for mental health services under limited limitations. The tax now generates $2 billion to $3 billion a year, nearly one-third of the state's mental health budget.

Two-thirds of those monies must be spent on homeless people with major mental conditions or substance misuse programs in counties. Newsom wants to give the state more authority over how that money is spent, but critics fear it would apply one formula to all counties regardless of homeless numbers and may pit kid services against homeless programs.

Proposition 1 would allow the state to borrow $6.38 billion to create 4,350 housing units, half of which would be for veterans, and 6,800 mental health and addiction treatment beds. Homelessness is one of California's most aggravating concerns and will haunt Newsom if he runs for president. About 181,000 Californians are homeless, nearly a third of the nation's total. With 5,500 beds, the state needs 8,000 more for mental health and addiction treatment.

With the assistance of law enforcement, first responders, hospitals, and mayors of major cities, Newsom raised almost $13 million to promote the measure, far exceeding opponents' $1,000.

Under Newsom, at least $22 billion has been spent on crisis initiatives, including $3.5 billion to turn decrepit motels into homeless housing. California distributes $2 billion in subsidies to establish more treatment facilities. Newsom calls the initiative the final element of his mental health reform plan. He has supported regulations that make it easier to force behavioral health patients into treatment.

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