As the Sacramento Bee reports, the number of homeless people in Sacramento County has increased to 5,570, a jump of 52 percent from 2017. In February, Gov. Gavin Newsom named Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg to lead the Commission on Homelessness and Supportive Housing, with the goal of addressing the underlying causes that keep people on the streets. The governor explained that many of the homeless are struggling with mental illness, which might recall mayor Steinberg’s past advocacy on that issue.
In 2004, nearly 54 percent of California voters approved Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act, sponsored by state senate boss Darrell Steinberg, who hailed it as a model for the nation. The measure slapped an additional 1 percent tax on millionaires’ incomes and in its first eight years brought more than $8 billion. By 2013, many were curious where the money went.
State auditors could not account for how the money was spent and the Sacramento Bee wondered if it was “shoved down a rat hole, never to be seen again.” The San Jose Mercury News found fewer clinics across the state, and some 750,000 California adults failing to receive the mental health treatment they needed.
By 2015, Proposition 63 brought in $13.2 billion but according to Promises Still to Keep: A Second Look at the Mental Health Services Act, a 2016 report from the Little Hoover Commission, “Important questions remain unanswered: Who oversees MHSA spending, where does the money go and is the Act achieving its goals?” The Commission also found “overlapping and sometimes unaccountable bureaucracies.”
Senate boss Steinberg was never up front about how much of the $13.2 billion went to salaries for government workers and well-connected mental health providers. On the other hand, Proposition 63 did come through for its sponsor. As David Siders reported in the Sacramento Bee, Steinberg became director of policy and advocacy for the new $7.5 million UC Davis Behavioral Health Center of Excellence, as Siders explained, “an institution funded by a measure he championed while in the Legislature.”
The unpaid position “allows Steinberg to lobby the Legislature on behalf of the center without violating California’s revolving-door law.” And Steinberg, neither a psychiatrist nor a behavioral scientist, “will be a visiting professor at Davis’ Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.”
In 2016, voters made Steinberg mayor of Sacramento, and on his watch the ranks of the homeless have increased substantially, 52 percent in the past two years alone. The city is strewn with trash and beaches near Discovery Park test more than 7 times above the safety level for E. coli bacteria, a sign of fecal contamination. The primary source, experts agree, is high numbers of homeless “campers” along what could now be called the Excremento River.
Those numbers, and overall squalor, have increased on mayor Steinberg’s watch. His Mental Health Services Act may have enriched bureaucrats and providers, but it did nothing to remedy what many, including Gov. Newsom, regard as the underlying cause of the homeless problem.