HOMELESSNESS AND MENTAL HEALTH—A look at the most recent California legislation gives us some hope.

Senate Bill 855 In late September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 855, a bill authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener and sponsored by the Kennedy Forum and the Steinberg Institute.

Starting in January 2021, the new law will require commercial health insurers to adopt uniform standards of care developed by nonprofit clinical associations and pay for medically necessary treatment of any mental health or substance use disorder listed in current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.


The new law was specifically designed to bolster the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (also known as the federal Parity Law), which requires insurers to cover treatment for mental health and substance use disorders no more restrictively than treatment for illnesses of the body, such as diabetes and cancer.

AB 1976 A week ago the Governor also signed AB 1976, which amends a the bill knows as Laura’s law. The original 2002 law authorized counties to start programs to provide intensive assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) to people suffering from severe mental illness and enabled judges to order treatment for those who declined to accept offered services.

AB 1976 makes Laura's Law applicable throughout California as of July 2021 unless a county's supervisors "opt out" and give their reasons. In other words, it requires all counties to implement the program unless they formally and with reasons opt out. It also allows judges authorized referrers to the program when patients refuse them and it eliminates the 5-year

State Grants. A small minority of homeless people are so severely debilitated — and are spiraling toward death — that they aren’t capable of accepting voluntary mental health and addiction services. For this limited group of people, extra intervention is needed. AB 1976 is most welcomed answer to this problem.

State Grants In September 2020, the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development awarded $17.3

million in grants to seven programs to help further build the pipeline of public mental health professionals in California. Collectively, the grantees will add 36 Psychiatry Residency slots and fund 336 Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner slots.