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  • Writer's pictureMaahik Trivedi

California Passes Prop. 1, Aimed At Homelessness

Updated: May 6


A homeless encampment with trash spilling out of a suitcase onto the sidewalk

In the face of a growing homelessness crisis, California passed a controversial proposition aimed at mental health services and housing (Jiroe, Unsplash)


In January 2023, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that more than 181,000 people were experiencing homelessness in California. While homelessness is on the rise across the country, one state suffering significantly is California, signaling a need for a change. Passed on March 21, Proposition 1 aims to tackle the state’s homelessness crisis by enacting strict requirements on counties related to spending on housing and drug treatment programs.


The Current Issue


Currently, a third of America’s homeless population resides in California. From 2018 to 2022, over $17.5 billion was spent trying to combat the homelessness crisis. However, in the same time frame, there was an increase in the homeless population.


One University of California, San Francisco survey found deeper implications of the mental and physical health aspects of homelessness. The survey showed that 23 percent of homeless respondents reported an inability to access needed healthcare in the prior six months. Many respondents reported poor health and health challenges—60 percent reported a chronic disease and 34 percent reported a limitation in an activity of daily living. Participants also noted how the stress of homelessness caused additional mental health symptoms, with 66 percent noting symptoms of mental health conditions, including serious depression (48 percent), anxiety (51 percent), trouble concentrating or remembering (37 percent), and hallucinations (12 percent). Only 18 percent of the participants were able to get treatment for their mental health symptoms.


For many, these statistics demonstrated the need for additional legislation and aid for the homeless, considering its devastating effect on health and well-being.


Prop 1 Passed


California Proposition 1 symbolizes a shift in the state’s mental health system and homelessness crisis. Counties are now required to spend two-thirds of the Proposition 63 tax, a voter-approved tax on millionaires, on mental health services, housing, and programs for homeless people with serious mental illnesses or substance abuse problems.


The new initiative will also allow the state to borrow $6.38 billion to address the homelessness and mental health crisis. This money will be allocated to 4,350 housing units and 6,800 mental health and addiction treatment beds.


Controversy Behind Proposition 1


Although Proposition 1 aims to help the California homeless population, many voters have pointed out issues with the new policy. For example, to help fund new mental health equipment, Proposition 1 diverts money from existing mental healthcare programs, including one-third of existing funding from the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (MHSA). This could ultimately lead to the firing of healthcare workers and the end of mental services for thousands of people. Many current MHSA programs serve as a lifeline for underserved communities and would not survive budget cuts.


Additionally, state funding has previously failed to reduce California’s homelessness problems. For example, Sacramento has spent over $20 billion on the issue in the last five years without making significant progress. Many fear that Proposition 1 funding will be similarly ineffective.


What Does This Mean for California Politics?


Although only passed by a slim margin, Proposition 1 does not signal a major shift in California’s politics. Historically, California has had a majority-left population, more lenient towards government spending on programs like mental health care and homeless assistance. The close vote on Proposition 1 was less due to a shift in voter perception than previous failed yet costly attempts under Governor Newsom to address homelessness. Proposition 1 would entail spending billions more, and many voters are skeptical of its effectiveness over already existing mental health programs.


 


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