As we continue to come back from the pandemic, we cannot be satisfied with the way things were. Now is the time to address some of the state’s most pressing challenges, including the housing and health needs of the more than 161,000 people experiencing homelessness in California.
Homelessness is a complex challenge that requires significant investments in housing and supportive services. Since behavioral health conditions can contribute to homelessness or be worsened by it, responsive health care systems are also needed. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s planned investment of $12 billion to end homelessness will place some 65,000 people in housing, and provide housing stability to more than 300,000 others. As important as that is, the governor’s plan goes well beyond that, expanding the capacity of the behavioral health system to ensure that we have a model of care that is accessible and meets people where they live.
The governor’s California Comeback Plan builds upon two innovative programs that provided 42,000 Californians with shelter from COVID-19, and created 6,000 affordable housing units. Within one year, Projects Roomkey and Homekey did more to address the homelessness and affordable housing crises than anything done before in California, and they’ve become national models.
But our efforts must continue. To ensure housing stability for all, we must expand the brick-and-mortar capacity of our behavioral health services. The proposed $2.45 billion Behavioral Health Continuum of Care Infrastructure Program will do just that through competitive grants to acquire and rehabilitate properties. This will result in approximately 15,000 new beds, units, rooms and outpatient treatment slots for both housing and treatment for youth, adults with disabilities, seniors, and people with severe behavioral health conditions. These community-based services will provide vital care to reduce homelessness, incarceration, and unnecessary hospitalizations, which will benefit both the individuals receiving services and our society itself.
There’s much more to the Continuum of Care, including a $4.4 billion investment in children and youth’s behavioral health, and a $1 billion investment in facilities for adult and senior care. Services will address a broad and complex range of issues affecting mental and emotional well-being, including alcohol and other substance use disorders, stress, trauma, grief, and anxiety.
Finally, the wide-ranging California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal (CalAIM) initiative will play a critical role in addressing California’s homelessness crisis. CalAIM will reform health care delivery so that it serves the whole person and this will include assistance with finding housing and paying for move-in costs, case management to help people stay housed, and care coordination to support ongoing connection to treatment and care.
Californians can be assured that treating the causes and effects of both mental illness and homelessness are, and will continue to be, top priorities for Gov. Newsom’s administration. We are working towards coordinated, patient-centered, comprehensive care: a whole-person system that integrates a full spectrum of housing, health care, behavioral health, and other social services. The critical behavioral health investments described above are key to that.
Will Lightbourne is director of the California Department of Health Care Services. Kim Johnson is the director of the California Department of Social Services
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