Voters to decide on mental health services

Megan Mojica
Staff Writer 

California voters will help decide the fate of the state’s mental health services in next week’s election.

Proposition 1, if approved, would address the California homeless population and those suffering with mental health and addiction issues by expanding services. 

Mental health and addiction services would be expanded to also include housing and personalized support.  

Currently these services are provided under two recently passed laws based on Senate Bill 326 and Assembly Bill 531

Senate Bill 326, authored by California Sen. Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, is also known as the Behavioral Health Services Act, which amends previous law to expand services to include treatment for those with substance abuse disorders and serious mental illnesses.  Assembly Bill 531 supports that law with funding. 

Proposition 1 further revises funding for these services by allowing counties to determine the best use of their funds. 

David Stammerjohan, chief of staff for Eggman, said they took a look at what existing resources they had and what gaps in the system were present. 

“We saw an opportunity to build more specificity into that act to make sure the money is going to its highest and best purposes, including providing housing for those with mental illness,” Stammerjohan said. 

These gaps also included treatment facilities. Assembly Bill 531 would issue about $6.4 billion in bonds to pay for housing and treatment facilities, while also redistributing money raised for mental health services through taxing the top one percent. 

This would enact the Behavioral Health Infrastructure Bond Act of 2024, which would aid in the conversion, rehabilitation or new construction of permanent supportive housing for veterans and others who are homeless and meet specified criteria. 

About $2 billion of this funding would go toward turning hotels, motels and other buildings into housing. The rest of the $4.4 billion would be used to build more places for mental health care and addiction treatment. 

A portion of the criteria is for someone to have serious mental health issues. University of La Verne Assistant Professor of Psychology Carlos Vidales said serious mental health issues can include illnesses like schizophrenia and severe personality disorders. 

“Any type of psychological disorder or combination of psychological disorders which make daily acts of living incredibly difficult or make it incredibly difficult to attain or sustain housing,” Vidales said. 

Karen Vicari, director of public policy for Mental Health America of California, said they are concerned about how misleading the proposition is when it comes to addressing the link between the homeless population and mental illness. 

“Homelessness has been proven to not be caused by mental illness, but it’s also really important to know that being homeless can cause mental illness and can cause mental health symptoms,” Vicari said. 

Another big portion of the proposition is the aid it intends to bring to those with substance abuse disorders. Vidales said there is a huge association between mental illness and substance abuse disorders. 

“For many people that they have a serious mental illness and that leads them to use substances to cope,” Vidales said. “For other people it’s the gradual use of recreational drugs and then later on harder or illicit drugs that can affect someone’s mental health and thus lead to more serious mental illness.”

In a statement published online from Gov. Gavin Newsom said the proposition will help enact change on previously made promises. 

We see the signs of our broken system every day – too many Californians suffering from mental health needs or substance use disorders and unable to get support or care they need,” Newsom said. 

But for Vicari it’s a concern to lose services already in place, preventative measures are important and without it there can be negative effects. 

“The potential negative impacts is that people can’t receive services early and that they will not be able to receive services until their mental health condition worsens to a point where it becomes a serious mental health condition,” Vicari said. 

In addition to the negative impacts, Vicari said this approach will end up costing the state more later on.

Although there may be a lot of opposition surrounding the proposition, each side hopes they can help the mental health crisis in California. 

“It will not eliminate the problem that we have but it is the most significant step forward in addressing and providing an ongoing source of funds that will deal with this problem over a period of years,” Stammerjohan said. 

Megan Mojica can be reached at megan.mojica@laverne.edu.

Megan Mojica, a junior broadcast journalism major, is a staff writer for the Campus Times.

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