Gov. Newsom expected to address homelessness, mental health in State of the State speech

(FOX 11)

California’s governor is expected to call for better mental health care to help the state’s huge homeless population when he addresses one of the state’s most pressing problems in his second State of the State speech.

Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom offered what he called “a little preview” of his Wednesday speech.

"We’re committed to radically re-imagining our behavioral health system. Not mental health system — our behavioral health system," Newsom said.

Behavioral health is a broader approach that includes not just mental well-being but also addresses interrelated physical challenges such as drug and alcohol abuse or poor diet and exercise.

Newsom recently called for changing provider reimbursements during an interview by the Public Policy Institute of Californian to promote “the integration of brain health and physical health in a way that we think also would do justice to this deeper issue of homelessness.”

Newsom’s State of the State address is set for mid-morning in the ornate Assembly Chambers and is likely to be more focused than his marathon budget address last month that lasted nearly three hours.

The Democratic governor will speak while his most vocal critic — President Donald Trump —visits Southern California. Newsom and the Republican president have repeatedly traded tweet storms over whether California’s leaders are doing enough to get transients off the streets. Trump on Tuesday criticized Los Angeles’ officials for failing to stem that city’s homelessness epidemic, warning that the federal government will intervene if Los Angeles doesn’t “clean it up fast.”

While homelessness in most states has declined, the number of people living on California streets jumped 16% in 2019 to about 151,000. Local governments have historically handled the bulk of homeless services, but state officials have boosted funding in recent years by more than $1 billion.

This year, Newsom wants to spend another $750 million combating homelessness and wants to give the money to as yet unnamed regional administrators instead of local governments. The independent Legislative Analysts’ Office has criticized that approach, saying it likely won’t have a meaningful impact.

Newsom counters that the homelessness problem is so bad the state needs to try something different. Earlier this year, he sent camping trailers from the state fleet to cities in need and ordered excess state land to be used for temporary shelters.

He’s asking state lawmakers for nearly $700 million, doubling to $1.4 billion by 2022 including federal funds, to shift the focus of California’s Medicaid program that provides free or low-cost medical services. He wants state and local emphasis on preventative health care, but with a broad approach that could include non-traditional assistance in finding housing, even providing rental assistance if homelessness is linked to heavy use of expensive health care services.

The governor also created a state and local “behavioral health task force” to look at the link between mental illness and substance abuse.

He expects to offer changes this spring to a tax on millionaires approved by voters in 2004 to help those with mental illness who are homeless, among other efforts.