Pixel Tracker

Monday, December 17 , 2018, 12:26 pm |


Consumer Advocacy Coalition Is a Growing Force for County’s Mental Health Community

Amid a climate of uncertainty and a looming ballot initiative battle, the year-old group steps up its efforts to preserve services

Less than a year after the Consumer Advocacy Coalition was formed, the group’s executive director is gearing up for what may be its toughest challenge yet. Roger Thompson, who oversees the mental health advocacy group, is on a mission to educate the public about Proposition 1E, one of a half-dozen ballot measures facing voters in May.

If approved in the May 19 special election, Prop. 1E would divert over two years’ time $500 million from mental health programs to the state’s general fund in an effort to close California’s $42 billion deficit. The proposition deals with funds put in place by a 2004 initiative, Proposition 63, which implemented an additional 1 percent tax on households with incomes of $1 million or above. Currently, that money goes to create new and expanded mental health programs for children and adults.

“Prop. 63 is working,” Thompson said. “Two hundred thousand people are enrolled in mental health services that weren’t before 2004, including 50,000 children.”

If funds are siphoned from mental health programs to ease the budget deficit, he said, more and more Santa Barbara County residents who survive by utilizing available services will likely face increased risks of homelessness or jail time. Without continued support of medicine or counseling services, many more residents will simply fall through the cracks.

The money redirected toward the state’s general fund, Thompson said, would offset less than a percent of the current deficit. Taking money from a mental health fund if Prop. 1E passes would set a bad precedent, on both the state and federal levels, he said.

“California is a hugely important state, politically, and what we do here, the world watches,” he said.

While explaining his nonprofit organization’s efforts, Thompson shares his own experiences, putting a human face on the budget cuts the mental health community faces. The 28-year-old, who has bipolar disorder, got involved in April 2008, when he was told his services would be cut, and he realized that about 800 people might be similarly affected.

“Not everyone is able to advocate for themselves effectively,” said Thompson, noting that he felt a responsibility to speak out. In spite of pleas made before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, about $4 million in mental health cuts went forward last year. The effects of those cuts weren’t fully realized until a few months later, Thompson said, but when people who had relied on services found themselves cut loose, reality set in.

The Consumer Advocacy Coalition's town hall meeting in Santa Maria was its second as the nonprofit organization seeks to educate the public and mobilize support for mental health services.
The Consumer Advocacy Coalition’s town hall meeting in Santa Maria was its second as the nonprofit organization seeks to educate the public and mobilize support for mental health services. (Consumer Advocacy Coalition photo)

“I saw people losing hope, and becoming very symptomatic,” he explained. Thompson himself lost his ability to check in with a therapist for his own disorder and he said he became suicidal. About 300 people were directly affected by the cuts and three were left homeless, he said.

When funding for simple activities such as writing and poetry groups came to an end, Thompson said, some people lost an opportunity to interact with their therapists and others, so the hastily formed Consumer Advocacy Coalition stepped in to duplicate some of those activities. Gathering spaces were quickly donated and volunteers came forward to lead the sessions, which allowed the CAC to offer them four days each week.

CAC kicked its efforts into high gear after All 4 CMH (County Mental Health), an advocacy group of mental health community organizations and nonprofits, disbanded last year after the cuts were passed, Thompson said.

In addition to a December town hall meeting in Santa Barbara, a meeting took place last week in Santa Maria. At that gathering, a panel of six people from community-based organizations; alcohol, drug and mental health services; and consumers talked about their vision for the county’s mental health efforts, and took questions from the public. Fifth District Supervisor Joe Centeno and 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr were present at the meeting, which lasted nearly two hours.

After one recent meeting, a woman approached Thompson. Worried that she would lose her access to an aggressive county treatment program, she asked Thompson for help. “She had fresh cut marks running down her arms,” he said. When he asked the county Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services about the cut-off date for service, workers assured Thompson the woman’s services would not end. “Thank God that CAC was there, because we were able to intervene and do something,” he said.

The Consumer Advocacy Coalition is a pet cause for this poodle.
The Consumer Advocacy Coalition is a pet cause for this poodle. (Consumer Advocacy Coalition photo)

Thompson said he isn’t sure exactly how the county would be affected if Proposition 1E passes, but he noted that a large number of people would see services reduced, which in turn would possibly strain emergency rooms and jails, as well as contribute to homelessness. Cuts in services “would be far more costly to the taxpayer here,” he said.

The CAC is California’s most vocal consumer group when it comes to opposing Prop. 1E, Thompson said.

“If we can create a stir here in Santa Barbara County, and if we can do it in a county that’s the third-worst funded in the state, I think people will take note,” he said.

CAC plans to increase its presence on Facebook and YouTube and is planning an April 22 news conference about Prop. 1E.

Thompson admits he is humbly learning about the process by seeking input from others.

“If I don’t hear from the public, I’ll just have to go to Borders and buy Opposing Propositions for Dummies,” he joked.  “Contacting us and saying, ‘Hey, I want to help,’ or ‘Here’s an idea,’ I think that’s what it’s going to take.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >