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California narrowly passes $12.7 billion bond on homeless housing, treatment

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(The Center Square) – California voters narrowly passed a $12.7 billion bond for building more mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities and homeless housing. With only 108,000 ballots left to count, the measure leads by 50.2% to 49.8%, or a 29,000 vote lead, suggesting a nearly guaranteed passage for Proposition 1.

“This is a huge victory for doing things radically different when it comes to tackling homelessness,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom, who spearheaded the ballot measure, in a statement. “Now it’s time to get to work — repairing the damage caused by decades of broken promises and neglect to those suffering from severe mental illness.”

The measure goes hand in hand with other legislation the governor passed, SB 43, to change the state’s conservatorship laws. SB 43 expanded conservatorship — when the state appoints someone to oversee one’s care — to include people who are unable to provide for their personal safety or necessary medical care, in addition to food, clothing, or shelter, due to either severe substance use disorder or serious mental health illnesses.

SB 43 creates a means of forcing homeless individuals to get care, while Prop. 1 — which aims to build 11,150 new behavioral health beds and 26,700 outpatient treatment slots — creates the treatment capacity to care for them. Prop. 1 also requires counties — the largest mental health providers in the state outside the prison and jail system — to spend 30% of the mental health services funding they receive from the Mental Health Services Act towards housing interventions for individuals with behavioral health conditions.

“Counties have long maintained that Mental Health Services Act funding should be able to be used more flexibly to support substance use disorder services and programs,” said County Behavioral Health Directors Association Executive Director Michelle Doty Cabrera in a statement. “Adding new focus and requirements to fund housing placements and substance use disorder services from a source of funding previously dedicated to mental health services will require counties to work in partnership with the state and local communities to identify solutions for the legacy mental health programs currently funded through the MHSA,” Cabrera warned.

Lower Democratic turnout and higher Republican turnout made for a more conservative electorate for Prop. 1. However, support for Prop 1. declined over time from Californians across the political spectrum as the state’s budget woes and homelessness crisis continue to worsen despite ongoing spending increases. Support for the measure dropped from 68% in December to 59% by February, and just 50% before the March 5 election.