California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks about mental health crisis before signing off on two major pieces of legislation to transform the state's mental health system and to address the state's worsening homelessness crisis in Los Angeles, on Oct. 12, 2023. (Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo)
With county supervisors across California voting recently to delay implementation of a newly signed law aimed, in part, at lowering the homeless population, Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed dismay in a press conference Dec. 15 and said immediate action is needed.
“We need to see a sense of urgency. We cannot wait until 2026,” Mr. Newsom said. “People will literally lose their lives.”
With homelessness in California increasing nearly 6 percent since last year, according to a Dec. 15 Housing and Urban Development report, the governor said some constituents are growing restless and demanding positive results.
“People are losing trust and confidence in government that can deliver on the promises that we promote,” Mr. Newsom said. “People don’t want to hear about how much money we’re spending; they want to know that we’re actually producing results.”
At issue is Senate Bill 43, now known as CARE Court—designed to address homelessness and addiction by allowing involuntary commitment for drug and alcohol treatment for those unable to care for themselves—set to take effect Jan. 1, 2024. However, the law allows two years for counties to comply, an option 56 of 58 statewide have taken.
Only San Luis Obispo—north of Los Angeles—and San Francisco counties are prepared to act when the new law takes effect, according to a statement made by the Stanislaus County behavioral health director in a Dec. 12 board of supervisors meeting.
While earlier reports suggested Los Angeles County would be ready by January, a newly introduced motion to delay implementation until 2026 will be entertained by supervisors at their Dec. 19 board meeting.
Identifying funding is the primary issue raised by county supervisors, as counties must cover costs initially. With no timeline for state reimbursement, supervisors in several counties argued to their respective boards this month that budgets will be strained by the new regulations.
As the new law will require involuntary holds for drug treatment, some counties are concerned about the number of facilities needed to accommodate such—suggesting remodels of existing buildings or new development will be needed to comply.
With the state facing a growing budget deficit that could reach $155 billion by 2025, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, critics questioned whether such reimbursement funding would be available from the state in the near future.
While county leaders are generally in favor of holding off adoption of the new law—a group of mayors from the San Diego region recently pleaded, unsuccessfully, with local supervisors to implement the act immediately.
“While the law allows for counties to delay implementation until 2026, our County is experiencing an unacceptable behavioral health crisis—one all of us see clearly every day in our communities,” the Dec. 4 letter read. “Putting implementation off will cost people their lives and is an abdication of the County’s responsibility to provide the critical mental health services to the most vulnerable in our communities.”
Prepared to adopt the new regulations immediately, San Francisco Mayor London Breed said the need to help those who can’t provide for their own well-being is urgent.
“People are struggling with severe substance abuse and mental health challenges in our city to the point where they cannot help themselves,” Ms. Breed said in a Dec. 7 press release. “When we have an opportunity to put a new solution into place, we must work quickly to do everything we can to implement it.”
The governor agreed and said he is looking to counties to enact the new regulations promptly.
“The state has done its job,” Mr. Newsom said during the Dec. 15 press conference. “It’s time for the counties to do their job.”