The people who could be successfully cured are instead languishing and dying on our streets due to political inaction. We can change this. We can reduce crime, save lives and save millions of dollars in taxes by finally taking seriously the untreated mental health challenges that are increasing our homeless population, contributing to rising crime rates and wasting millions of taxpayer dollars .
Californians know that in the past few decades, the state has largely dismantled the hospital system that cared for those suffering from mental illness, such as the Agnews facility here in San Jose. The closure of these institutions correlates with rising homelessness and incarceration rates. The state’s goal was to replace these facilities with community-based treatment, but that goal has never been achieved, leaving thousands of people here in San Jose suffering on our streets, in our prisons, or desperately trying to seek care. in the most expensive way possible – in our emergency rooms.
After failing for decades to fully address the crisis, Santa Clara County supervisors were finally forced to report that our county was in a mental health crisis. According to data from the California Board of State and Community Corrections, the rate of mental illness in Santa Clara County jails has increased by more than 60% in the past decade. In 2019, 65% of people in our prisons had an active mental health case, up from 5% in 2009. These figures also show that 47% of inmates in our county’s prisons were regularly receiving psychiatric drugs, a dramatic increase since 16% a decade earlier.
Right now, about 40% of the homeless population in Santa Clara County suffer from severe mental health problems, while 35% report substance abuse. And on average, 8 percent of emergency room visits nationwide are for mental health or substance abuse diagnoses, visits in California costing an average of $ 2,960 each.
To make matters worse, Santa Clara County only has 13 hospital beds for every 100,000 residents. Experts recommend 50 beds for every 100,000 residents, which means our county needs nearly 1,000 additional beds to meet the needs of our community. Studies show that providing more psychiatric hospital beds and mental health services reduces crime rates, especially violent crime. We can save lives, reduce crime rates, reduce homelessness and save taxpayers’ money by requiring those who pose a danger to themselves or others to use these options once they are available.
It’s not that the county doesn’t have the money to increase treatment options. Santa Clara County has more than $ 100 million in state mental health funds that they have failed to spend. The Board of Supervisors took $ 76 million in COVID-19 aid dollars and spent it on bonuses for county staff, many of which earn $ 250,000 or more annually. They spent $ 4.5 million on valet parking for staff. The Board of Supervisors even approved $ 1 million to write a book about their achievements.
Clearly, this is not about money, but about mismanagement and a lack of political will. Every dollar we wasted could have saved us seven dollars in criminal justice costs with a proper investment in treatment programs.
Santa Clara County was among the last to officially adopt Laura’s law last year, just before the state mandate expired, with supervisor Cindy Chavez still expressing reservations about this life-saving law. The county has yet to fully implement this law, which requires treatment for people who pose a danger to themselves and others. And as counties like San Francisco move swiftly to enact new CARE courts that help push homeless residents suffering from mental health problems or drug and alcohol addictions to treatment, Santa Clara County is once again dragging feet.
This is only difficult for politicians who face political pressure to send bonuses to staff or scrutiny from supporters who think it’s somehow kind to let people hurt themselves and others.
If we pay attention to the facts, not politics as usual, we can reduce crime, homelessness and save millions of taxpayers by saving lives. It’s just common sense.
Matt Mahan represents District 10 on the San Jose City Council and is running for mayor.