We have been following the California homelessness crisis, including the ensuing public health issues related to the expanding encampments.

In his recent “State of the State” address, Governor Gavin Newsom addressed the housing crisis and offered doctor’s prescriptions as a potential solution.

“Health care and housing can no longer be divorced. After all, what’s more fundamental to a person’s well-being than a roof over their head?” Newsom said during his speech. “Doctors should be able to write prescriptions for housing the same way they do for insulin or antibiotics.”

Newsom based his proposal on his claim that “ten million Californians, one in four, suffer from some type of behavioral health condition.”

Newsom reiterated the points in a series of Tweets.

The timing is interesting, inasmuch as President Donald Trump was recently in town to check on the progress of the state’s handling of the homelessness crisis. Newsom listed homelessness as his top priority during the state of the state address.

It would be easy to dismiss or mock this suggestion by Newsom. However, in the address itself, Newsom does actually pinpoint when homelessness began to arise as an issue:

President Kennedy envisioned a system in which, in his words, “the reliance on the cold mercy of custodial isolation will be supplanted by the open warmth of community concern.”

State mental hospitals were closed. But the promise of community mental health was never fully realized.

The states were burdened with the responsibility but provided little in the way of support.

Laws were changed that made it harder to compel mental health treatment. Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act in 1967, designed to end the inappropriate lifetime commitment of people with mental illness.

And critically, in 1975, a U.S. Supreme Court decision, O’Connor v. Donaldson, ruled that “mental illness alone cannot justify a state locking a person up against his will.”

All of these changes, coincided with safety net cuts, block grants, and tightened eligibility standards of the 80’s and 90’s, along with wholesale razing of skid rows and SROs—which for so many was the only housing option.

The cumulative impact made county jails the de facto mental health institutions.

Patients and their families were left with inadequate options to get the mental health care they needed.

Points for Newsom: The first step in finding a solution is identifying the problem. One intriguing passage of the address leads me to suspect that Trump’s “Success Offensive” may be wearing down the #Resisitance.

In a politically polarized world, liberals and conservatives blame one another for these failures.

Historically speaking, both are right.

It’s time to stop pointing fingers and join hands in a transformational solution.

I will point out that just because a doctor writes a prescription doesn’t mean the patient will actually fill it and take it. Real solutions are going to have to address situations where the person who is prescribed housing uses it to ensure public health and safety.

Of course, no progressive solution is complete without throwing a lot of money at it. Newsom has laid out $695 million budget request to go forward with these plans.

And while Newsom may be correct in the foundation of this solution, the phrasing and promotion needs substantially more work going forward.


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