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Gov. Gavin Newsom unveils homelessness ballot initiative in San Diego

By City News Service, Associated Press,


SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Gov. Gavin Newsom visited San Diego Sunday to announce a "big idea, a big deal" ballot initiative to address homelessness, mental health and substance addiction in California.

Newsom made the proposal during one of his final "state of the state" tour of cities across California at Alvarado Hospital, adjacent to San Diego State University, with several state and local officials.

The governor said "we have to address and come to grips" with providing permanent housing for the homeless, mental health treatment and drug addiction.

Newsom proposed a statewide initiative that would go before voters in November 2024 to "modernize how California treats mental illness, substance use disorder and homelessness."

Part of the initiative would be paid for with general obligation bonds for building new community mental health facilities in California. More than 10,000 Californians with mental illness and substance abuse disorders would be served, Newsom said.

The ballot measure would also amend the state's Mental Health Act, passed by voters about 20 years ago to fund programs for residents with serious mental health issues.

That act levies a 1% tax on incomes more than $1 million each year to help pay for California's mental health system. Newsom said he wants to add $1 billion a year for housing those with mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

The ballot measure would also assist veterans.

"Nobody does it better than San Diego," the governor added. "We own this moment," he added. "We're going to win this thing in November 2024."

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's Health and Human Services secretary, called Newsom's proposal "a bold idea. We're at the beginning of the next stage of behavioral health reform."

Also on hand to endorse the governor's plan were state Sen. Susan Eggman, San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, Assemblyman Christopher Ward, state Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who co-authored the Mental Health Services Act in 2004.

The initiative would need to be approved by the Legislature and California voters.

The announcement came one day after Newsom stopped in Downey to announce a partnership with Civica RX to provide low-cost insulin to Californians, and also to announce that California will manufacture its own lower-cost Narcan -- the drug that reverses the effect of an opioid overdose.

Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

Read the Associated Press story previewing Newsom's press conference in San Diego below.

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.

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 over 10,000 people a year could live and be treated. The plan is the latest by the governor who took office in 2019 vowing to own the issue of homelessness in a state where an estimated 171,000 were unhoused last year.

“This is the next step in our transformation of how California addresses mental illness, substance use disorder 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 one-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 encampments have popped up on sidewalks and under freeway overpasses across California, and people in clear mental health crisis are a common sight on city streets.

The initiative would be partially funded by general obligation bonds that would go toward construction of “campus-style” facilities along with smaller homes and long-term residential settings, Newsom's office said.

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

"Modernizing it will lead to $1 billion every year for housing, treating substance abuse disorders, and more," the statement said.

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 unveil further details during a stop Sunday afternoon in San Diego, according to his office. The governor is wrapping up a four-day statewide tour that he used to highlight his major 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 small 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 housing. Federal courts have ruled cities can’t clear homeless encampments if there are no shelter beds available.

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