San Mateo County’s most vulnerable squeezed

With the stroke of his pen Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may have written a dark future for San Mateo County’s homeless and mentally ill, local officials fear.

The governor signed off on a two-months-overdue budget, but also made line-item cuts of $703 million — including $527 million in health and human services.

This week, San Mateo County officials begin a grim task — to assess how much funding they have lost and figure out how to provide services to its most vulnerable with shrinking dollars.

“The governor’s cuts are a setback on all the fronts we’re fighting on daily,” San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill said. “We will continue to plug ahead, but we’ll do it slower and we won’t be able to help as many citizens as we could.”

The cuts decimated funding for Housing Our People Effectively, the county’s 10-year plan to address homelessness, which began in 2005, Hill said. Additionally, $914,000 in funding to the county’s Transitions Programs, which offers services to 75 of the county’s mentally ill homeless people, was eliminated.

According to a count earlier this year, San Mateo County has 2,000 homeless residents, Hill said.

“Many of them have serious mental illnesses. This money would directly provide treatment for those individuals who desperately need it,” he said. While Schwarzenegger’s action wasn’t all bad news for San Mateo County — the governor preserved Proposition 36 funding to offer first-time drug offenders treatment instead of jail — officials remain concerned that conditions will worsen at the county’s already overcrowded jails if programs for the mentally ill and the homeless perish.

“These are not criminal justice problems, but if these individuals can’t get help, they’re going to wreak havoc on our criminal justice and health care system,” State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo said.

Schwarzenegger has said that funds from Proposition 63 — also known as the 2004 Mental Illness Services Act — can instead be used to fund the programs cut by his veto.

But Kate McLaughlin, mental health advocate and mother of a bipolar son and daughter, said the proposition’s monies are dedicated to developing new programs, which leaves existing programs in danger.

“I think it’s immoral to allow someone in a good program functioning well to fall out of the system and into the clutches of their own illness. We don’t do that to people with diabetes. We don’t do that to people with kidney disease,” she said.

tbarak@examiner.com

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