California asks voters to approve new mental health beds

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SAN DIEGO (AP) – California voters would decide whether to fund a major expansion of housing and treatment for residents suffering from mental illness and addiction under the latest proposal by Gov. Gavin Newsom to address the state’s homelessness crisis.

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Newsom announced Sunday that he will ask allies in the Democratic-controlled Legislature for a measure on the 2024 ballot to authorize funding to build residential facilities where more than 10,000 people a year can live and receive treatment. The plan is the latest from the governor, who took office in 2019 and promised to own the issue of homelessness in a state where an estimated 171,000 were without a home last year.

“This is the next step in our transformation of how California addresses mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness — creating thousands of new beds, building more housing, expanding services and more,” Newsom said in a statement.

California, home to nearly 40 million people, has nearly a third of the nation’s homeless population, and their numbers are growing much faster than in other states, according to an analysis of federal data by the Public Policy Institute of California. Tent camps have sprung up on sidewalks and under freeway bridges across California, and people in clear mental crisis are a common sight on city streets.

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The initiative will be funded in part by general obligation bonds that will go toward construction of “campus-style” facilities along with smaller housing and long-term housing conditions, Newsom’s office said.

Additionally, it would overhaul California’s Mental Health Services Act, an initiative approved by voters in 2004 that levies a 1% tax on incomes over $1 million to fund mental health services. Some lawmakers complained that money from the initiative was bypassing those who needed it most, and Newsom’s office said the new version would improve accountability and oversight for counties.

“Modernizing it will lead to $1 billion each year for housing, substance use disorder treatment and more,” the statement said.

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State Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, will introduce the measure, which would also earmark money to house more than 10,000 homeless veterans across the state, according to the statement.

Newsom planned to reveal additional details during a stop Sunday afternoon in San Diego, according to his office. The governor is wrapping up a four-day tour of the entire country, which he used to highlight his key policy goals. The tour replaced a traditional State of the State address.

On Thursday, Newsom announced a plan to spend about $30 million to build 1,200 tiny homes across the state to help house people living on the streets. The homes can be assembled quickly and cost a fraction of what it takes to build permanent homes. Federal courts have ruled that cities cannot clear homeless encampments if there are no shelter beds available.

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California asks voters to approve new mental health beds

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