Back in late February 2020 BC (Before COVID), Gov. Gavin Newsom made it clear his No. 1 priority in his “State of the State” address was tackling California’s perplexing homeless issues.
The governor stated the obvious that making headway into the Rubik’s cube of homelessness includes access to mental and physical healthcare
Newsom asserted later in his Tweet, “Doctors should be able to write prescriptions for housing the same way they do for insulin or antibiotics.”
Nothing much came of his grand homeless initiative or further details of his magical pill for homeless and mental health woes prescribed by the intelligible scribbling of a medical doctor. That’s because within days California would descend into a long lockdown thanks to COVID-19.
The homeless issue has since gotten worse! As far as metrics measuring whether mental health issues are putting more people on the street, there isn’t exactly a lot of data out there although the governor did say in his Tweet 15 months ago that one in four Californians “suffer from some behavioral health condition.”
The governor is correct in further assertions the mental healthcare system isn’t working very effectively. But if he believes lack of housing is the “original sin” when it comes to what seems like an exploding number of homeless with mental health issues, perhaps he might want to get his house and that of his neighbors’ in the California Legislature in order first.
Some of the issues Newsom might want to tackle:
• The Great Escape from state custody of convicted criminals with ‘Get Out of Jail Now” cards without carefully screening for those with mental issues that pose serious public health and safety concerns.
• The Incredible Shrinking Mental Health Sector. Rep. Josh Harder has been laser-focused over the past three years to seek solutions to the Valley’s drastic shortage of healthcare professionals pegged at around 10,000. You can’t plop the mentally ill into housing and say – voila! – they are cured.
• The “See No Evil, So Do Nothing” attitude when it comes to mental health. It is always comforting to grab a bowl of popcorn and watch political theater for a spell as we are told from their bully pulpit stage what ails the world and how they are going to fix it. But when it comes to the mundane, nuts and bolts drudgery work that requires them to swallow a bit of their idealism in order to deal with reality by crafting effective laws that balance public safety and individual rights they are nowhere to be found.
The biggest overwhelming issues with those with mental health concerns that are also homeless are getting them to accept help. You might be surprised to know they aren’t exactly lining up at the doors to available services asking for assistance.
They have rights; that’s a given. But the difficulty to applying what laws there are for involuntary holds – even for 24 hours – makes connecting most of the problematic with mental issues among the homeless to services.
This is not a black-and-white issue where it is either absolute individual rights or the ability of the state to lock away people at will.
What we have in California today with the rising tide of mentally ill homeless is the result of a failure to pursue a balancing act. No one said it would be easy. And no one said it would be something you can do via a flurry of Tweet-a-thons.
Last year the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors – not exactly a bastion of anti-progressive politics – came to the conclusion that essentially elevating the rights of the homeless mentally ill to the point they are basically allowing them to have the run of a city is making things worse.
It never should be easy to involuntarily commit someone. That said, the level of problems that the homeless are allowed to create running the gamut from compromising the rights and safety of others through their actions and even to the determinant of their own health, well-being, and safety should not be tolerated.
No one has absolute rights. Determining the mental health of someone is a judgment call more than an absolute rigid checklist.
An argument can be made that Newsom’s reaction to COVID-19 coupled with desires to pursue a restorative justice agenda has worsened California’s mentally ill homeless condition on a level not even seen when Ronald Reagan was governor a half century ago. That’s when a number of mental health advocates, along with the Legislature, successfully pulled the plug on some laws that made involuntary mental health holds easier to do as well as start a string of state mental hospital closures.
Early release from state prison due to COVID-19 concerns and restorative justice goals did not carve out exceptions for inmates still with a lot of time to serve that may have mental health issues that fit into the category of the behavioral maladies Newsom Tweeted about that he contends one in four Californians suffer from. There were no large scale assessments. Public safety and the ability of inmates to fend for their selves were not required to be weighed in the wholesale slashing of sentences. It was simply get them out the door and onto the streets as quickly as possible.
As a result of Sacramento’s strategy of combining political correctness with political platitudes innocent Californians are paying the price for the state’s working policy of allowing free range mental ill homeless.
We have seen – and will see more – incidents such as the 64-year-old Riverside woman walking her dog who was stabbed to death in a random attack attributed to a 23-year-old homeless woman.
Days earlier the 23-year-old woman had been arrested for suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.
Assessments regarding her mental health after allegedly beating a woman with a skateboard – if they were made –didn’t meet the current threshold for even a temporary mental health hold.
Police officer assessments of mental health in relation to potential harm individuals can do to themselves or others under current state law is almost an impossible hurdle to clear to hold someone even on a short-term involuntary basis.
The 23-year-old homeless woman was booked and released with a Notice to Appear citation due to an emergency bail schedule under the COVID-19 emergency declared by Newsom.
Perhaps it’s time for the governor to declare a statewide homeless emergency.
That way he could issue pointed lockdowns aimed at protecting the health and safety of all Californians in the wake of the homeless pandemic.
In all honesty that is a flippant and ridiculous suggestion to make as it would ultimately solve nothing.
It does, however, dovetail into Newsom’s equally flippant and ridiculous Tweet that the cure to issues created by the mentally ill homeless is simply writing a prescription for housing.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.