This month’s Odds and Ends column seems like the perfect venue to write about the homeless man who camped out on Grand Avenue under the freeway overpass for nearly a decade. His behavior was clearly odd and his end more or less preordained given current circumstances. Gustavo Guzman died in mid-March at the age of 48. Hardly anyone knew his name or history, with the exception of Joanne Devereaux, who contributed a compassionate portrait of him, titled “Gustavo Parts Unknown,” for the October 2020 Splash Pad News. It’s highly recommended reading as a reminder that each and everyone of the homeless individuals we’re encountering on the streets have their own unique histories. That said, if they are mentally ill, chances are they won’t voluntarily agree to hospitalization, and if they are picked up against their will, there aren’t nearly enough beds for assessment. The tiny minority of individuals who are confined for an extended period of time during which their mental health status is stabilized are then released back onto the streets where their condition rapidly deteriorates due to the lack of supportive housing.
These very same themes (that Joanne and I have been harping on for the past several years) are echoed in an April 27 article in the Washington Post that also outlines statewide measures that are in the works. The author, Scott Wilson, points out:
In a few months, altering its past path, the state will begin an experiment (known as Care Court) in what amounts to coercive compassion, an initiative that unlike today’s mental health system will force people into treatment programs instead of jail and monitor their progress for at least a year.
Scott also reports that Governor Newsom is proposing two initiatives that would address the ongoing crisis:
First, he proposed issuing a bond that would raise as much as $5 billion for housing the mentally ill and those suffering from drug addiction. His second initiative would allow state officials to spend up to $1 billion a year on housing from the Mental Health Services Act revenue, a category of spending that is currently prohibited. Governor Gavin Newsom is asking the state legislature to place the proposals, combined in one proposition, on the 2024 ballot. The measure would require approval from a majority of voters. In the meantime, Jason Elliott, a senior adviser to Newsom, said, the state already sends counties $11 billion a year in behavioral health funds and other money that may be used to add to the affordable housing stock.
We’ll take some consolation in knowing that there’s a growing consensus around what needs to be done. Unfortunately, as the Washington Post article concludes, there’s also a consensus that what’s being proposed is inadequate, especially regarding the statewideneed for more housing which is a problem statewide.
The City of Oakland is relocating the Freedom Market onto El Embarcadero this year with a Grand Opening scheduled for Saturday, May 20. The market will run through October 28. Hours are 9am-6pm on Saturdays/Sundays. Food trucks will be joining this year!
The annual East Bay Open Studios begins on May 12th with a series of special events and continues for two full weekends. Click here for the Special Events schedule and self-guided artists’ tour.