Get ready for the big lie — or at least being misled whether it is intentional or not.
The California Legislature this week may consider spending $2 billion to help cities get the homeless who are mentally ill off the streets.
The money to leverage bonds would primarily come from the Mental Health Services Act tax on millionaires that voters imposed in 2004.
Officially, there are 115,000 homeless in California. Experts contend 25 percent of the homeless have serious mental illnesses.
The assumption, of course, is if you build it they will come. But what the state is talking about — and rightfully so — is building housing in conjunction with making mental health services available that the mentally ill homeless would have to access to be allowed housing.
The real issue is the rights of the mentally ill homeless versus society’s expectations of civilized behavior.
The politically correct myth is that California’s homeless population surged when Ronald Reagan was governor and issued an order to clear out mental institutions. In reality advocates for the mentally ill at the time had successfully secured court decisions that essentially made it impossible for the mentally ill to be involuntarily committed or forced into programs against their will.
It is a decision that — whether you like the ultimate outcome or not— made sense in that it curbed the possibilities for government abuse. Unfortunately mentally ill people do not necessarily have a desire to follow rules or to seek out treatment.
That means getting the mentally ill homeless into a shelter would be tough enough but getting them to follow the rules or enter a treatment program of some type on their own free will might be next to impossible.
If you doubt that, talk to a few people who have been homeless for more than a few months and don’t particularly like living on the streets. They will tell you they have fallen into a comfortable routine of sorts. It’s no different than what we all do. It can be a challenge to help people who actually want help due to comfort levels, having issues with following rules, or 101 different reasons that aren’t much different than what a person who isn’t homeless will toss out to avoid making a change in their lives whether it is their eating habits, exercising or something as simple as keeping the house cleaner. They are humans, not drones.
The challenge is compounded significantly with the mentally ill that are homeless to boot.
It’s not that $2 billion can’t make a difference. Assume it costs $100,000 on average to build 300 square feet of living space in California — and Ikea-style studio apartment — perhaps 10,000 such homeless units could be built statewide assuming $1 billion went for housing space and $1 billion for other needs such as kitchens, counseling areas, grounds, etc. needed at such a shelter complex for the mentally ill homeless.
All in all the proposal — which is expected to annually consume upwards of 6.5 percent of the tax collected under the Mental Health Services Act — will go for what the voters were told it would go to which is addressing mental health issues of Californians.
But here’s the rub: Assuming they can convince the mentally ill homeless to commit to such a shelter/program it is low-hanging fruit.
That’s because the legislature is dipping into money that can only be used for the mentally ill. What about the 75 percent of the homeless that don’t meet the threshold for having mental health issues? Will anyone propose spending $2 billion on housing from the state’s general fund to help them and in turn address growing quality of life concerns for communities up and down California?
The answer is obvious — of course not. The general fund is the battle ground for teachers, prison guards and the Elon Musks of the world that want tax credits to reduce the risks one faces in trying to amass wealth.
Meanwhile, Sacramento will leave the impression with everyone that they are taking action to address the homeless problem per se as opposed to the seriously mental ill homeless problem. Much like passage of the California Lottery in the 1980s led some to believe it solved public education funding concerns the raiding of the Mental Health Services Act revenues will leave the same impression with the homeless problem in general.
That said, the state likes to talk a good game about helping the homeless.
As the housing crisis deepened, politicians in Sacramento stumbled over each other trying to get in front of TV cameras to say how they were sending money to homeless shelters to provide assistance to those forced out onto the streets after losing their homes.
They did send money — for one year. The HOPE Family Shelter in Manteca, as an example, got $15,000 in 2010 from the state. The state hasn’t spent a dime since on funding local homeless shelters yet they made it sound like they were going to be there beyond a sound bite cycle.
So get ready for Sacramento to spend $2 billion on shelters for seriously mentally ill homeless and then act like they’ve made a bold initiative to address California’s homeless issues in general.
It’s the Sacramento way. Generate a lot of hyperbole. Make a sweeping pronouncement. Look for easy money to pick off. Tie a lot of strings to it. And then leave the impression you’re addressing the problem in a substantial manner when you’re not.