In 2004, the people of California voted on a “proposition”. A proposition bypasses the legislature and put is on the ballot directly by the voters when it is clear that the legislature wouldn’t pass it as a traditional bill.
This is Proposition 63. The ballot called it the “Mental Health Services Act” and it passed by 53.8% of the voters.
Proposition 63 deals with reforming the state’s public mental health system by raising the tax rate on income over $1 million by an extra 1%. It affects about 30,000 taxpayers. (If you are not handy with mathematics, that is an extra $10,000 on every million dollars per year.)
The extra money would be about a 31 percent increase in the previous budget of about $2.5 billion dollars. Its purpose was to revolutionize and expand the mental health system and focus on the recovery-oriented programs to try to get people off the state’s dole as soon as possible.
The Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) was projected to generate about $254 million in the 2004-2005 fiscal year, $683 million in 2005-06 fiscal year, and then increasing amounts later.
OK. So what does this mean?
The Steinberg group, well, Darrell Steinberg and his staff, made the papers the other day announcing that they are working with the Sacramento County Behavioral Health Directors Association to check the results of the programs that use the funds collected by the proposition. The results seem to the success in helping the homeless and other severely mentally ill people with a variety of services such as substance abuse treatment, housing, and job training.
“What made me happy was to see that over 35,000 people a year are benefiting from the full-service partnerships. And yet … we know there are more people who need the help,” Steinberg said.
What does this mean to the homeless? Well, there are many homeless people out on the streets today, this morning, and every morning who are mentally ill. There are some who are obviously in need of severe help. They barely can form a clear thought; let alone hold a salient conversation with anyone.
I know of at least one person whom I will call George. That is not his real name, but for the story I will call him that. George would come to our van and wait in line. He would properly sign our sheet and when we would ask him what food the wanted it was basically the one word.
“Tuna, tuna, tuna, tuna” would be all that he would say.
“Ok, George, here is a can of tuna. Now, do you want some peaches or oranges?” I would question.
“Tuna, tuna” was the reply.
“But George, I gave you a can of tuna. Do you want some peaches? How about oranges?”
The garrulous conversation would go on like that. I would then try to guess what he wanted; besides tuna. It was clear that giving him choices was not the proper thing to do.
It was not always “tuna”. Some days it was “chocolate”. Other days it was “noodles”. It was as if he had a craving for a single item.
But, more probably, it was all that he was thinking about then.
After he got his bag of food, he would stand nearby and relate how the earth’s magnetic field was destroying all life on the planet. The words that he spoke did not make sense. They were a rambling string of words. Journalists call it a “stream of consciousness”. Everyone else has a simpler term for it — crazy. And, like an ignored child, if you didn’t listen to him, he would only repeat it louder until finally someone asked him to speak softer.
You take pity on him. You wonder what happened. I can tell you what happened. The mental health facilities were closed and they tossed everyone there out on the streets to fend for themselves. That’s what happened!
The story of George is not unique. In some form or another, we serve many disabled people. Our sign in sheet has a column for “disabled”. If you looked at the sheet, I am guessing thirty to forty percent of the people have indicated a disabled status. In most cases, the disability is not physical but mental.
That is a sad statistic. It’s a sad condition of the state of our society that these people are in so much need of mental health care and wonder the streets like George saying “tuna, tuna, tuna” to everyone that they see.
I can understand why mothers sometimes keep their children away. To them, George must seem dangerous. It is that they don’t know George as I do. Please don’t misunderstand me. George is physically harmless. He would not physically hurt anyone. His is neither violent nor a threat to society. He is just not mentally fit to lead a normal life.
Without help, and like Ahasuerus before, he is cursed to wander the streets among us all who just don’t seem to care.
It just sometimes that things seem overwhelming to me that I wonder if there really is a solution to the problem. There are so many people out there who are in need, like George, of basic mental health support.
Maybe proposition 63 will supply the funds that people like George need help. Or, perhaps it is just another boondoggle on the taxpayers. Only time will tell. In the meantime, George will have to wait.