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SACRAMENTO, CA, Feb. 19, 2020 – The County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California (CBHDA) released this statement from Executive Director Michelle Doty Cabrera following the Governor’s “State of the State” address today. Cabrera is also a member of the Governor’s Council of Regional Homelessness Advisors (“task force”). 

In focusing this year’s State of the State address almost entirely on the crisis of homelessness, Governor Gavin Newsom has made a clear call for both urgency and resources. County behavioral health systems share Governor Newsom’s dedication to ‘do everything we can to ensure no Californian is homeless.’ 

In order to adequately address the crisis of homelessness, we must first correctly diagnose it. We applaud the Governor’s leadership in calling out the homelessness crisis as the ‘ultimate manifestation of poverty,’- one which is compounded by systemic racism. All too often, blame for the crisis wrongly falls on individuals who face behavioral health conditions while living on the streets. Those assertions are stigmatizing and wrong.”

According to last year’s official ‘Point in Time’ count, fewer than one in four Californians who are homeless are living with serious mental illness or substance use disorders. Yet the longer people stay on the streets, the more likely they will need behavioral health services. CBHDA welcomes the Governor’s attention to the historic underfunding of California’s community behavioral health system as well as the action needed to prevent more Californians from facing the physical and mental toll of living on the streets by significantly increasing the number of affordable homes for vulnerable Californians. We must do better across all levels of government. 

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We appreciate the opportunity to update the Mental Health Services Act to meet our State’s current and future needs. County behavioral health directors welcome additional transparency and accountability, and stand by the good work we’ve done. The MHSA has funded much of what exists today in terms of homeless outreach, engagement, as well as treatment for the seriously mentally ill. Given the fact that this investment is already squarely addressing homelessness, we believe it is important for the State to consider the need for additional investments, rather than shifts. Fifteen years after California voters approved the Mental Health Services Act, we know now more than ever that we cannot wait to deliver interventions until individuals have been institutionalized or are on the streets. We caution against embracing this ‘fail first’ approach.  

We are proud that Governor Newsom recognizes the strength of counties’ Whole Person Care model, and we urge the Medi-Cal transformation through ‘CalAIM’ to leverage counties’ expertise and braided funding.

As the agencies on the front lines of the homelessness crisis, county behavioral health departments share Governor Newsom’s optimism: with the state’s focus, partnership, and sustainable investment, we can end the crisis of homelessness and deliver the dignity every Californian deserves.

The County Behavioral Health Directors Association is a statewide non-profit association that represents all 58 county behavioral health directors and two city mental health programs (Berkeley and Tri-City) which is dedicated to advocating for public policy and services on behalf of people who are living with substance use disorders and mental illness. www.cbhda.or