When California voters passed a tax on high-income residents in 2004, backers said it would make good on the state’s “failed promise” to help counties pay for the treatment of the mentally ill.
After nearly 15 years, Proposition 63 — the Mental Health Services Act — has steered billions of dollars to the counties across the state. But huge sums remain unspent at a time when mental illness has become an epidemic among the homeless population.
As of June 2017, $1.6 billion was being held in reserve in nearly three-quarters of the counties in the state. In Los Angeles County, the Department of Mental Health had accumulated nearly $900 million. The unspent funds are believed to have increased in the fiscal year that ended June 30, but figures were not yet available.
Advocates say much of this money could have put crisis teams on the streets, started construction on supportive housing projects and funded psychiatric urgent care centers. According to some estimates, more than a quarter of California’s homeless have a mental illness; in Los Angeles County, the percentage is slightly higher.
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