City Opens Public Comment Period for State Mental Health Funds

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday July 31, 2007

Berkeley may be getting $330,000 more for mental heath services, in addition to the nearly $1 million already allocated under the state Mental Health Services Act (MHSA). 

The city asked Berkeley residents last week to submit recommendations for using the cash. To receive the additional money, the city must give the state an outline of how the funds would be used and give the public 30 days to comment on the recommendations. The window for public comment closes Aug. 20. 

The MHSA Steering Committee—comprised of staff, consumers and other stakeholders—has recommendations that include allocations for the Homeless Action Center and the Youth Emergency and Assistance Hostel (YEAH!). 

California voters approved the Mental Health Services Act in November 2004. The act places a 1 percent tax on every dollar of personal income over $1 million.  

“The state allocates these revenues to local mental health departments for the purpose of transforming and expanding mental health services,” said Kathy Cramer, program supervisor. “State income tax revenues have exceeded projections and according to the new law, the state is required to release these additional funds to local governments.  

Berkeley Mental Health commissioner Michael Diehl said he was pleased that the additional funds would focus on mental health housing. 

“The steering committee has come up with a plan for the $330,000 which includes a heavy focus on permanent housing, which in my opinion was somewhat slighted in the plan for the $1.1 million, due to the existence of preexisting state funding under AB2034 for mental health housing for those defined as both seriously mentally ill and homeless,” he said. “One of my key goals is to get the homeless off the streets. As a result, this is the part of the MHSA funding I am particularly interested in.” 

The MHSA provides a combination of permanent as well as temporary housing through the Russell Street Residence and the Martin Luther King House. 

Under the additional funding, housing services have been allocated a total of $182,227, which includes housing coordinators, benefits advocacy and additional housing supports. 

YEAH! will receive $20,000 for a clinician to help transition-aged youth; additional peer counselors will also be funded. 

Kramer added that the MHSA strives to employ peer counselors who had once taken advantage of mental health services. 

“The advice is unique since it’s coming from a person who has been in the same shoes,” she said. “Peer counselors give tips to mental patients about what it takes to be a good tenant and what it takes to get back to work in the real world. They make the entire transition a lot less fearful.” 

“When we first put out the plan, people were happy that the money was being used to help the homeless, but they didn’t think there was enough money allocated for housing,” Kramer said. “They were also concerned that we didn’t address the issue of substance abuse. We hope things will get better with time.”  

Community outreach is being done through the city website and the press to make people aware of the public comment period. 

“It’s extremely important to get the recommendations out to the public,” she said. “In fact, the MHSA wanted to make sure that the community is involved rather than just leave it to the Mental Health Services.” 

After the review period for the recommendations end, a final proposal would be submitted to the State Department of Mental Health.  

The Mental Health Commission will review the MHSA in the fall. 

Residents can download and review the recommendations at www.CityOf 

Berkeley.info/mentalhealth/prop63.html and follow the directions to respond, or call 981-7698 for other options for viewing the city’s recommendations.