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About Mental Health

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his plan on Tuesday to build housing for people with mental illness and addiction using $4.68 billion in new bond funding and some existing revenue from the state’s mental health services tax.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom during his statewide tour that kicked off at Cal Expo, March 16, in Sacramento. The governor announced a plan to build approximately 1,200 tiny homes throughout the state in an attempt to reduce homelessness.
Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, and Assembly Member Jaqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, introduced the bills to enact the governor’s plans Monday evening. Two-thirds of lawmakers would need to vote for the measures to bring them to voters in March 2024. If both bills pass, Newsom spokesman Brandon Richards said they will be combined into one ballot measure that would need to win a majority of votes to become law.

Newsom’s plan would provide funding for 10,000 new residential treatment beds. The proposal is directed at people with severe mental illness who are homeless, or who need intensive treatment but are falling through the cracks in the state’s overburdened system. Newsom wants the state to build “campus-style” facilities where people can live and be treated, as well as smaller “cottage” settings and individual homes, according to his office.

Voters passed the Mental Health Services Act in 2004 to levy a 1% tax on income over $1 million to fund mental health services. The changes to the act Newsom announced Wednesday would allow counties to spend 30% of the funding they receive from the tax on housing for people with mental illness or addiction. The changes would also earmark some of the money for early treatment of severe mental illness among young people.

State leaders have tried to use the funding for housing in the past, but have been stymied in court. Newsom first announced his intention to change the state’s Mental Health Services Act in March, arguing that the law needs to be updated to reflect how high housing costs and highly addictive street drugs are affecting mental health and homelessness in California.

The tax generates about $4 billion annually. Dedicating a portion of that to housing would ensure the tax helps people visibly struggling with mental illness and addiction in tent encampments that line city streets, said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who wrote the original Mental Health Services Act when he served in the Legislature.

“It’s long past time to modernize the Mental Health Services Act,” Steinberg told reporters on a briefing call.

Severe mental illness and addiction makes people much more likely to be incarcerated or become homeless, something that needs to be reflected in the law that allocates that tax revenue, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said.

Eggman’s bill to revise the law would change the name to the Behavioral Health Services Act, a designation that adds addiction disorders to the mental health problems the funding aims to address.

Irwin’s bill would authorize the $4.68 billion in bold funding. If approved by voters, the funding would need to be paid back over time with interest.

Newsom and his allies argue that the new facilities that would be built with the money would be a vast improvement on the mental institutions that California moved away from decades ago because the new facilities would benefit from much more advanced mental health science. Legal protections against incarcerating people against their will simply because they have a mental illness and better funding would also be an improvement on the mental institutions of the past, Newsom has said.

The tax revenue and bond funding in Newsom’s proposal could help address a key criticism of Newsom’s previous efforts to improve mental health care by adding more treatment beds. Last year, the governor and lawmakers enacted a new system called CARE Court that aims to make it easier to get people into treatment for mental illness, although even advocates of the system have argued there aren’t enough treatment slots available to encompass all the people who need them.

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

– Sophia Bollag:;