Governor Gavin Newsom has signed legislation that will help provide the resources needed to care for and house those with the most severe mental health needs and substance use disorders.
California Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jennifer Barrera, who attended the October 12 signing, applauded the Governor and the Legislature for taking the bold steps to address the social crises manifesting on the state’s streets.
“California employers, especially retailers, public-facing leisure and hospitality businesses, and health care, are at the front lines, and many struggle daily to stay open and provide a safe and welcoming business environment for their workers and customers,” she said. “This ambitious response provides the necessary resources to enable a more effective response by service providers and get help to those most in need.”
The Governor signed two bills, which the CalChamber supported: SB 326 (Eggman; D-Stockton) and AB 531 (Irwin; D-Thousand Oaks). These proposals will need to be approved by voters and will appear on the March 2024 ballot.
Mental Health Services Reform
SB 326 modernizes and reforms the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), which was passed as Proposition 63 by voters in 2004.
This legislation expands services to include treatment for those with substance use disorders, in addition to prioritizing care for those with the most serious mental illness; provides more guaranteed resources for housing and developing a workforce; and continues community support for prevention, early intervention, and innovative pilot programs—all with new and increased accountability for the money going into the programs.
AB 531 is a $6.38 billion general obligation bond to build 10,000 new treatment beds and housing units with support.
It will create new, dedicated housing for people experiencing homelessness who have behavioral health needs and substance use disorders, with a dedicated investment to serve veterans, providing Californians experiencing behavioral health conditions a place to stay while safely stabilizing, healing and receiving ongoing support.
Employers at Front Lines of Social Crises
For residents of California, the three interrelated social crises of homelessness, untreated serious mental illness, and drug abuse have strained the social cohesion, undermined quality of life, and visited suffering on thousands of Californians.
Among Californians experiencing homelessness, nearly 40,000 have a serious mental illness and more than 36,000 have a chronic substance use disorder.
California employers are at the front lines of these social crises, and many struggle daily to stay open and provide a safe and welcoming business environment for their workers and customers.
The Behavioral Health Services Act (BHSA) initiative in SB 326 and the bond funding in AB 531 are an ambitious response to the growing dysfunction manifesting on California’s streets and will provide the resources and accountability metrics necessary for a more effective response by service providers by creating and maintaining the housing and support services that are foundational for treatment to be successful.
It also broadens the population eligible for these services to include individuals with substance use disorders, which may be the predominate cause of homelessness and source of decay in California’s cities.