New state mental health funds reaching The City

San Francisco is gearing up to spend more than $2.3 million of state funds for mental health needs, the first allocation coming as a result of California's new voter-approved fund.

The Mental Health Services Act, passed in November 2004, is estimated to generate $600 million in funding annually that will be earmarked for direct mental health services for clients, as well as prevention and education programs. The funding comes from a 1 percent tax on citizens with an income of $1 million or more.

Although San Francisco is expected to receive approximately $5.3 million for direct services in future years, its first allocation will only be $1.3 million, since it is the last quarter of fiscal year 2005-06. In addition, the state also allowed counties to submit funding requests for one-time spending since it is so late in the year.

Robert Cabaj, M.D., director of community behavioral health services for The City said the challenge now is to get a request for proposals out to local mental health service providers in the next few weeks and then select those that will receive the state funds.

The money can't come fast enough, said Kevin Hines, 24, a member of The City's Mental Health Board who has bipolar disorder.

When Hines was 16, he had a nervous breakdown while acting in a school play at San Francisco's Archbishop Riordan High School. Two years later, he threw himself over the Golden Gate Bridge's rail into the icy water below.

One of the few bridge-suicide survivors, Hines is now on a strict health regime that includes medication and therapy. He is working as an activities coordinator for San Francisco's School of the Arts.

“I'm an advocate for getting more mental health services,” said Hines. “But we're going to need more allocations besides Prop 63. We should be getting money from major corporations, too.”

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