By Frederick H. Lowe
Two members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and a member of the California General Assembly have announced a ballot initiative to provide free universal mental health and substance abuse care to city residents, including many who are homeless and are in desperate need of care.
The proposal, titled “Mental Health SF.” would offer universal mental health and substance abuse treatment, including psychiatric care and medication to any city resident who needs assistance. The attention would include preventative care and follow-up visits.
San Francisco has a large homeless population partly because of gentrification in which people are evicted because of rising rents. The median purchase price for a two bedroom home in San Francisco is $1.3 million.
In the feature film, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” the camera showed shots of homeless men and women sitting on sidewalks and in one case, a man using his car as his home.
Some experts argue there is a connection between mental illness and homelessness.
San Francisco’s homeless population numbered 8,011 in the most recent point-In-time count, which is conducted every two years. This is up from 7,499 in 2017. San Francisco’s homeless population is second only to New York’s which in 2018 had a homeless population of 14,826, according to the San Francisco Homeless Project. African Americans comprise 40 percent of the nation’s homelessness.
San Francisco’s plan to offer mental health services comes after Chicago closed mental health clinics in African-American neighborhoods under former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Lori Lightfoot, Chicago’s newly elected mayor, briefly mentioned during her inauguration speech she wanted to re-open the clinics.
The San Francisco Health Improvement Partnership reported that 23 percent of the city’s 889,092 residents struggle with mental health.
“Mental Health SF” would include preventative care and follow-up visits. The plan also calls for the construction of a new treatment center, possibly in San Francisco General Hospital.
The proposal’s backers want to pay for Mental Health SF with an Excessive CEO Salary Tax, which would tax companies a surcharge for CEOs who earn 100 times more than its employees. The surcharge would increase for companies whose CEOS make 200 times more than their workers.
By taxing the excessive salaries of the city’s top business executives, Mental Health SF is expected to raise $100 million to $120 million annually, said Carolina Morales, legislative director for San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Rosen, one of three elected officials who proposed the plan. Supervisors have estimated the tax would raise $80 million annually.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed, however, has not announced her support of the plan, but its backers are addressing the Mayor’s concerns, Morales said. Last October, however, Mayor Breed laid out a plan to have 70 to 90 new mental health beds and a conservatorship legislation for those suffering from severe mental health and substance abuse issues.
“Mental Health SF” is designed to fix a broken system in which police are called to arrest the mentally ill, who are taken to hospital emergency rooms and released without having been given needed services.
“We believe that everyone can live with dignity and fairness,” Rosen said about the proposal. Rosen, Supervisor Matt Haney and Phil Ting of the California General Assembly introduced the legislation.
The proposal needs a simple majority to pass. If this occurs, San Francisco will become the nation’s first city to offer universal mental health care.