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Proposition 2: At Issue Is Housing For 20,000 Mentally Ill Homeless People in California

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Should voters approve new housing for an estimated 20,000 homeless people with severe mental illness?

While most people agree the end goal of Proposition 2 is noble, there is disagreement over $2 billion in bonds needed to build those homes.

To be clear, organizations representing California cities, counties, firefighters, police, sheriffs and mental health services overwhelmingly support the plan.

Here’s how it would work. California already has a revenue stream set aside specifically to pay for mental health services. It comes from what's known as the "millionaire tax" passed by voters back in 2004.

Prop. 2 would tap into that source to fund a program called No Place Like Home — and that is what has a group in Contra Costa County upset.

"I hear many of the proponents say, ‘We're just going to take a sliver of the money to do this.’ That's not a sliver. That's a lot of money," said Lauren Rettagliata, an advocate in Contra Costa County for people with serious mental illnesses.

Rettagliata is worried that the state might have to spend up to $140 million a year to pay back the bonds. She says that financing structure will cut into county-level mental health programs, leaving patients with less support.

The bonds, if approved, would help counties kickstart construction on housing projects under No Place Like Home.

Deborah Anderluh, with the Steinberg Institute, which advocates for better mental health policy, says the $140 million does amount to a sliver when you compare it to the estimated $2 billion or more in expected annual revenue from the Prop. 64 tax.

"I know that the opposition, the idea is, ‘Well, this is taking money away from existing funds for mental health services.’ And what we say is that those services, they don't work well without the housing," Anderluh said.

Both Anderluh and Rettagliata agree that those with extreme mental illness are very vulnerable, and care for them is expensive.

Rettagliata points to the treatment side and says that, in some instances, we need to rethink our conservatorship laws so that “people are not just left to die on the streets” or spend their lives in jails and psychiatric emergency rooms.

Anderluh says a recent study in Los Angeles showed housing those with mental illness ends up saving money, because "people were in housing and getting treatment and on the road to recovery instead of in jail or in the hospital."

According to Anderluh, counties will be able to use the bond to leverage even more local funding for an estimated $15-20 billion dollars in housing. She says every single California county has already applied and been awarded a planning grant.

Prop. 2 has broad support from a variety of organizations, including law-enforcement groups and the statewide National Alliance on Mental Illness.

As of mid-October, the Contra Costa Chapter of NAMI was the only organization to officially come out as opposed to the initiative.

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