Mental Health Programs Get Boost

South Valley expecting $38 million from Prop 63; Funds used to
help homeless, wards of criminal justice system, kids and
Morgan Hill – In a radical shift from the norm, South County social service providers will soon have more money to help the area’s neediest, thanks to a new tax on the state’s wealthiest residents.

As soon as April, Santa Clara County will begin distributing tax revenue raised by Proposition 63, a November 2004 voter initiative that assesses an annual 1 percent tax on personal incomes over $1 million to pay for more mental health services.

In its first year, the law raised about $700 million, and nearly every service provider in the county will compete for the $38 million coming to South Valley over the next three years. The money will be used for a variety of programs helping the homeless, wards and former wards of the criminal justice system, young children and teenagers, adults and the elderly.

“It won’t be a huge amount of cash, but the great thing about it is that it’s causing the system to redesign itself,” said Lynn Magruder, development director at Rebekah Children’s Services in Gilroy. “We have high hopes that when a child walks in the door, we’ll be able to give them anything they need.”

Proposition 63 was written in a way to ensure that the tax revenue would supplement existing programs and not be used to replace other source of funding. The county’s mental health department was one of the few departments in the county that had its $190 million budget left intact this year.

And in another departure from the usual, the tax money will come with very few strings, giving providers more flexibility to help their clients.

“Frequently what families need are not in line with what a funder wants to pay for,” said Erin O’Brien, CEO of Community Solutions in Morgan Hill. “There’s money to pay for A, and money to pay for B, but not to pay for C. The full service model allows you to be flexible with what the family’s needs are.”

It’s too early for service providers to know how much of a windfall they’ll receive, but they are already planning ways to spend it. O’Brien said Proposition 63 money will be used to design new programs that are integrated with existing programs such as those run by First 5 California for young children and the county juvenile justice department.

The new funding stream will allow social service agencies to help not just troubled and sick children, but also address the larger causes of their problems, like parents with substance abuse problems or their own mental health issues.

“A lot of what we’re doing is looking at putting best practice models into place,” O’Brien said, “doing business better and providing services to our clients in a more efficient way.”

Rebekah will use the funds to work with what Magruder called a chronically under-served population – young adults who are too old for youth services. Rebekah works with about 2,000 kids a year in schools and residency treatment programs, but can do little for children once they turn 18.

“Suddenly they have no services because there’s no funding streams and many of them end up homeless or end up incarcerated,” Magruder said. “We’re very concerned with people 18 to 25 aging out of the foster care system. We would love to assist young people with their education and job training and be sure they continue to get the mental health treatment they need.”

As with many social ills plaguing the county, many of the problems are worse in South County. According to the department of families and children’s services, Gilroy and Morgan Hill rank first and third respectively in the numbers of calls to a county hotline for neglected and abused children.

To address that need, and the need to care for Spanish-speaking residents, the county will use Proposition 63 money to deploy urgent care and emergency response physicians in South County, though it’s not yet clear where they will be stationed.

“In general we under-serve the Latino and Asian monolingual populations,” said Bruce Copley, deputy director of the county mental health department. “We need to address the disparity in treatment. We need to get out into those communities more and understand what they need. Latinos don’t come as readily to traditional services. We need to figure out what we need to offer.”

Before the county can disperse the funds, it must have its program approved by the state, which will take about three months. The county will then solicit proposals from service providers and hand out the money sometime this spring or summer.

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