Taking a load off: A homeless man rests on the Third Street Promenade, a popular hangout. (File photo)

By Va Lecia Adams Kellum, Ph.D.

Nearly 60,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles County, and mental health issues impact almost 30% of that population. The rate is even higher among those who have been homeless for an extended period of time. St. Joseph Center has been working to help this population for decades. For the last 10 years we have utilized multi-disciplinary teams that include mental health professionals to actively engage and find housing for homeless individuals and families with mental illness.

From our experience, people accept treatment and have more success with treatment after they move into housing. That is why we strongly support a Yes vote for Proposition 2 on the November 6th ballot.

Proposition 2 authorizes usage of funds from the Mental Health Services Act, passed in 2004 to provide up to $2 billion in bonds to build permanent supportive housing, linked to treatment and services, for homeless individuals with serious mental illness. Passing this measure will ratify landmark legislation, known as “No Place Like Home,” which was passed with strong bipartisan support and signed into law in 2016. This legislation would scale up a proven model of treatment for this vulnerable population by providing them with stable and secure housing. Since “No Place Like Home” was passed it has been caught up in a court validation action. Proposition 2 would clear the way for its full implementation.

Proposition 2 does not raise taxes — instead it would use 6% of the annually-generated revenue from the Mental Health Services Act, with funding being spread across all California counties, to build permanent supportive housing. This bond will allow Californian communities to infuse significant resources into housing to provide a path of stability for our most vulnerable, homeless population.

In 2017 Governor Brown appointed me to serve on the No Place Like Home Advisory Committee. I can tell you firsthand that once Proposition 2 passes, we will see a positive impact on ending homelessness. Providing housing that is connected to supportive services, will not only help mentally ill individuals get off the street, it will also prevent many from continually falling back into homelessness.

One person St. Joseph Center recently helped who could have benefited from No Place Like Home is a man named Calmeze. He endured great hardships as a child, including abuse and alcoholism in the home. His traumatic upbringing took a toll, and he ended up struggling with depression and homelessness for decades. His daughter spotted him in an encampment just off Lincoln Boulevard last year. After an incredibly difficult talk, he was inspired to start making different life choices. The next time our outreach team came by he said “yes” to help and was referred to our mental health-focused Integrated Mobile Health Team. In May, Calmeze moved into his own apartment for the first time in years, where he continues to receive support from our trained staff. He has struggled since moving inside, as is the case with many who have lived on the streets for long periods of time. The roof over his head and the ongoing treatment from our mental health professionals has given him stability, which has prevented him from falling back into homelessness.

“I never thought I’d have a second chance at 60,” Calmeze said the day after he signed his new lease, “But I am truly, truly blessed.”

Getting people inside helps save lives. On November 6, please vote Yes on Proposition 2 to provide hope and support to thousands of our most vulnerable neighbors.

Va Lecia Adams Kellum, Ph.D. is President & CEO of St. Joseph Center.

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