Before I began my tenure as Mayor, I served as a 3-time gubernatorial appointee on the California State Board of Behavioral Science, serving as the Vice Chair of the board. During this service, I saw firsthand how complex and fractured our state mental healthcare system is. Improving this system has been one of my greatest professional priorities.
For far too long, California has been stagnant when considering the conditions of the existing mental health system. In the wake of the stagnation, our state saw a precipitous decline in the system across the board, from bedding to specialized housing to substance abuse treatment and prevention. In 2015 almost half of the counties in California had no adult acute psychiatric beds. Given the significant homelessness crisis we are facing, and the subsequent constraints of court rulings that have hampered our response, it became apparent that the most immediate and feasible method of resolution to combat this monumental challenge was an overhaul of the way we approach treatment.
Revamping the mental health system would not only benefit those with regulated and stable mental health challenges but would also help those who are suffering from chronic mental health illnesses. Right now, 1.2 million adults have a serious mental illness in California, some of which are represented in California’s 170,000+ homelessness population. Additionally, “a third of adults who received county mental health services for serious mental illnesses had a co-occurring substance use disorder.”
From the very beginning, my administration took the lead in advocating for legislation that would begin the process of revamping our system. Our efforts resulted in CARE Court, which was implemented in Riverside County just this month. With CARE Court, healthcare workers, first responders, and family members will be able to help individuals suffering from chronic mental health issues by providing critical services. These individuals are compelled to accept services through conservatorship if a court deems them to be “gravely disabled” and are unable to make decisions for themselves. And just last week, in order to strengthen CARE Court, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 43 (SB 43) which will expand the definition of “gravely disabled” to include people who are unable to provide themselves basic needs such as food and shelter due to an untreated mental illness or unhealthy drug and alcohol use. This will make it more attainable for authorities to provide much needed care to people with untreated mental illness or addictions to alcohol and drugs, many of whom represent the most visible homeless population in Riverside.
In addition to that important reform, our advocacy in Sacramento has also led to the signing of Senate Bill 326 (SB 326) and Assembly Bill 531 (AB 531), a $6 billion bond to build behavioral health facilities. Californians will vote on this package, collectively known as Proposition 1, on the March 2024 ballot. For the first time in decades, Californians will have the ability to transform the state’s mental health system by constructing healthcare facilities. The choice for how we move forward in this area will be left up to you—the voters.
We have not seen a substantial update in our mental health system since 1967, and I am proud that my office is one of the leaders in this effort. It is my obligation to Riversiders to be transparent when it comes to the challenges and opportunities our city is facing. And while I know, am witness to, and am frustrated by the mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness crisis we see on our streets, I am optimistic that because of our results-driven leadership, Riverside is positioned to confront this challenge. It will take time, and the work will be difficult in the months and years to come, but as long as I am mayor, we will not relent in our efforts, our advocacy, and our determination to get the job done.