California Prop. 1 authorizes a mental health program aimed at addressing homelessness

A key part of California's strategy to address its homeless crisis was narrowly approved by the state's voters, The Associated Press determined Wednesday, leaving Democrats by the closest margin in more than two weeks.

The measure, known as Proposition 1, includes a $6.4 billion bond to fund treatment and housing for homeless people with serious mental illnesses and drug addictions. Last year, when Gov. Gavin Newsom and a bipartisan group of California legislators put Proposition 1 on the spring ballot, early polls suggested it would easily pass.

Its approval was considered so certain that most voters and political donors were unaware of the opposition. But after the March 5 election, The Associated Press had 15 days of mail-in ballots to decide the move was too bad.

As this figure took a long time, Mr. Newsom decided to postpone his annual State of the State address to Monday because he wanted to celebrate Proposition 1 during his speech and highlight his efforts on homelessness and mental health.

On Wednesday, the governor framed the victory less as a close call than as a bold choice by frustrated Californians. years with the scale of the state's homeless problem.

“This is the biggest change in decades in the way California deals with homelessness, and a victory for doing things completely different,” said Mr. Newsom said in a statement. “Passage of Proposition 1 means we can begin to repair the damage caused by decades of broken promises and political neglect of people with severe mental illness.”

In California, more people have been living on the streets since the coronavirus pandemic began four years ago, and residents have repeatedly listed homelessness as a state's top concern.

However, on Wednesday, returns showed the measure was on track to win, with just 50.2 percent of voters approving it. The margin was less than 30,000 out of more than 7 million votes cast in the race. Outside the democratic cities most affected by the camps, clearances were lower than expected.

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“The Bay Area, Los Angeles, parts of the North Shore supported it,” said Mark Baldassare, polling director for the Public Policy Institute of California, who is writing a book on California ballot measures. “But many states don't.”

Mr. There were several theories as to why Newsom and Democrats struggled to gain support for the measure. A growing budget in the tens of billions of dollars may have discouraged voters from approving more spending. In a survey conducted in January The Institute for Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley found that 54 percent of voters rated the state's deficit as “very serious.”

In November, when the ballot is typically crowded, Mr. But primaries typically draw more conservative voters with fewer voters, especially when there isn't a competitive presidential or gubernatorial race at the top of the ticket, and polls have shown Republicans overwhelmingly opposed to 1.

Only about a third of registered voters cast ballots in the California primary, and Republicans made up about 31 percent, despite less than a quarter of registered voters.

“It's pure turnout, and we knew it was going to be low, but no one could have predicted it would be this low,” said David Townsend, a Sacramento political consultant whose specialties include bond measures.

The Democratic establishment spent nearly ten million dollars on ads to defeat itself and make Steve Garvey the “most conservative” Republican candidate to succeed the late Dianne Feinstein in the Senate primary. In doing so, they created an easier path to succeeding Adam Schiff in November.

Paul Mitchell, a Democratic political consultant and political data expert, said in his polls that some segments of the Garvey vote cited the Senate race as a key reason to vote. Collectively, they represented only a small fraction of the electorate, but Proposition 1 may have helped make the outcome closer than it otherwise would have been.

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Mr. Baldasare said that voters were more likely to be confused by the ballot measure, which touched on complex social and psychological issues. “The nature of voters is to vote no if they don't understand something about an issue,” he said.

And the campaign for Proposition 1, with more than $13.6 million worth of ads on television and online, was dominated not by mental health experts or frustrated downtown business owners, but by Mr. fell below 50 percent For the first time in nearly five years.

More than a week after the election day, with the results still pending, Mr. Newsom began looking for volunteers to help track down voters whose ballots were left uncounted because they didn't match the ballots on file. Under California law, those voters must be notified of a discrepancy and have the opportunity to fill out a form to have their vote counted.

Democrats and Republicans have made similar efforts in smaller races before, but such efforts are rare in statewide contests involving millions of votes.

Mr. Newsom made homelessness a priority when he took office as governor in 2019. Public anxiety during the pandemic intensified as downtown tent encampments spread in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities vacated by lockdowns.

California's Democratic leadership is under intense pressure to eliminate encampments, as rising housing costs and an influx of fentanyl have fueled homelessness in the cities. Proposition 1 was designed to target one of the thorniest aspects of the problem: serious mental illness and addiction.

The government has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars in hotels and motels to house people. Proposition 1 would further expand that program, funding about 11,000 treatment beds and housing units for health care and social services for homeless people with mental illnesses and addictions.

Most of the money would be raised through borrowing, a bond measure that would divert more than $140 million a year from existing state taxes on millionaires. In the last accountMore than 180,000 people were homeless in California.

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A A wide range of studies Published last summer by the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at the University of California, San Francisco, two-thirds of homeless people interviewed had serious symptoms of mental illness, but only about 18 percent had recently received treatment. Like many states, California is Acute shortage of adult psychiatric treatment beds.

California also requires more subsidized inpatient options for people with substance abuse disorders. Also, the state has the nation's strongest civil rights protections for people with mental illness.

Some of California's largest interest groups include Mr. contributed to Newsom's campaign account. State records show Proposition 1 raised more than $15.7 million, with a donor list that includes Bay Area tribes, labor unions, builders, health care providers, Uber and the California Chamber of Commerce. Only one organized protest raised about $1,000.

Still, there were concerns. Some counties and smaller mental health organizations have argued that diverting mental health dollars to the homeless could reduce funding for local programs that serve people of color, LGBTQ communities and other groups.

Civil rights groups charged that Proposition 1 would lead to more involuntary treatment. Last year, Mr. Newsom signed legislation allowing more conservatorships. This year, the government created a program to allow courts to commit people with severe, untreated mental illness to treatment. Proposition 1 would help underwrite that court program, called Care Court.

In a statement Days before the Associated Press called the race, Californians Against Prop. 1, a coalition of civil rights groups, people with disabilities and local mental health programs, said the move “could be a humanitarian disaster if not managed well.”

“The incredibly narrow approval of Prop. 1 is voters saying, 'Don't let that happen,'” the coalition said.

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