Last year we took a survey on the health of folks of all ages and walks of life in Stanislaus County. In a time when our community might seem divided, there was at least one issue 100 percent of people agreed we needed to fix – lack of mental health care access in the Valley. 

I couldn’t agree more. Just take a walk around Modesto or Turlock to see the chronic homelessness or talk with your kids and their friends – we’ve seen a 35 percent increase in young people seeking emergency mental health care over the past year in California. This issue affects all aspects of our lives and we have to deal with it. 

One of the most frustrating parts for me is that once again, this issue is exacerbated by the Valley not getting our fair share of the resources we need. Stanislaus County has half as many mental health providers per capita as San Francisco or Los Angeles. Even statewide, California has lost 90 percent of our mental health beds over the last fifty years and the state’s largest provider of mental health services is the LA County Jail. Our system is broken. 

We have to get more services for folks dealing with homelessness and serious mental health issues, more beds for those who need in-patient care, and a better system to keep our kids healthy and set up for long term success.

Tackling the Roots of Homelessness

First, we have to tackle the homelessness issue. When I grew up in Turlock, I would almost never see someone living on the street. Twenty years later, the situation has grown out of control, with real implications for public safety, health care, and our business community. 

Earlier this year, I was proud to stand alongside leaders from across the county to celebrate the opening of our new Youth Navigation Center. I fought hard to bring home new funding for the center because I loved their goal - ending all youth homelessness in our county. This year alone they will serve more than 600 people under 24 years old, providing everything from mental health services, to housing and emergency counseling, to help finding a job, and securing a permanent place to live.

If we can stop young people from becoming chronically homeless in the first place, we’ll have a whole generation free from the pain that homelessness causes our entire community.

Building New Mental Health Beds

Next, we have to build enough mental health beds here in the Valley so that nobody has to drive three hours to get the care they need or see a loved one in treatment. I’ve heard far too many stories of folks who are ready to get the help they need, but the closest treatment center with a bed is in San Francisco or Sacramento. 

That’s why I’m working on a new project that will deliver beds for adults seeking care for serious mental health issues right here in the Valley. Whether it’s someone experiencing homelessness due to a mental health condition or just struggling to get by, we’ll finally have the beds we need to get them checked in, into services, and checked out ready to live a healthy and fulfilling life.

Ensuring Every Kid Grows Up Healthy

And finally, we need to do everything we can to support the mental health of our kids. Statewide we know that 45 percent of young people struggle with a mental health issue and our Valley is no exception. 

Parents of kids as young as five years old tell me about how badly this pandemic has affected their kids and how worried they are about their futures. We have to get our kids connected with the mental health services they need so that a bump along the road doesn’t turn into a lifetime of challenges.

To keep our kids on the right track, I’ve secured $9 million in federal funds to bring new mental health services into 17 school districts across our Valley. That means thousands more kids are about to have more mental health staff to help them with whatever their challenge is. I’m also working to double the Promotora program so that our schools have Spanish speakers with the tools and resources to connect Spanish speaking families with the support they need. 

With these investments in place, we can tackle homelessness in our community, build the beds we need for those seeking care, and ensure every kid in the Valley gets the support they deserve. 

— Josh Harder represents California’s 10th Congressional District, located in the Central Valley covering Stanislaus County and parts of San Joaquin County.