By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

California State Senator Sydney Kamlager had authored legislation that would have provided health and social services to people experiencing homelessness, however Gov. Newsom vetoed it. Leroy Hamilton, courtesy photo

Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) declared that when Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed her legislation, Assembly Bill (AB) 369, he effectively ignored the lives of the unhoused with a “strike of a pen.”

AB 369 would have allowed for people experiencing homelessness to access health and social services outside the walls of a traditional medical clinic, including street medicine, shelter-based care, and within transitional housing.

“Just walk down any major street in California, and you’ll see the need for urgent health care amongst our unhoused communities and with the color of skin that looks like mine,” Kamlager, vice-chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), said in a written statement. “The lives of so many people who are ill and reside on the street could’ve been saved with this legislation, and I’m outraged to see those very lives ignored by the strike of a pen.”

The Newsom administration, in its explanation of the veto, says that the unhoused can receive similar service through California’s Presumptive Eligibility program, which offers Medi-Cal and timely health care. 

Newsom stated that Medi-Cal providers can be reimbursed for “street-based medicine” or services provided outside the office to their patients. 

In addition, Newsom maintained that the California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal (CalAIM) initiative, authorized in the 2021 Budget, will provide a whole-person approach to care and include expanded benefits to address clinical and non-clinical needs of Medi-Cal beneficiaries. 

“Creating a ‘carve out’ for persons experiencing homelessness, on the eve of the CalAIM transformation, will cut out these patients from services that are being created specifically to support their health, housing stability, and overall well-being,” he said.  

Sen. Kamlager disapproved of the Governor’s stance and course of action, arguing that AB 369, also known as the “Street Medicine Act,” would offer “real, tangible solutions to everyday problems.”  

“AB 369 would actually make CalAIM work. CalAIM’s plan relies on the same tired formulas and criteria that continue to marginalize the unhoused and prevent them from accessing care. AB 369 would reimburse providers, eliminate barriers and save lives,” Sen. Kamlager said.

Kamlager authored the bill when she was in the State Assembly. She ran and won the 30th Senate District after Holly J. Mitchell vacated the office. Mitchell won a seat in 2020 to be a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

AB 369 was the first legislation of its kind in the country to implement a presumptive eligibility program that would offer an unhoused person a full-scope of Medi-Cal benefits without a share of the cost. 

It was supported by 70 entities across the state, including the California Medical Association, Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti, California Association of Veteran Service Agencies, the California Academy of Family Physicians, and the counties of Kern and San Francisco.

“We are living in the midst of the greatest health and housing crisis of our generation,” added Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chairperson of CLBC. “It is unconscionable to think Gov. Newsom would veto this important legislation designed to provide immediate healthcare to the state’s most vulnerable citizens in dire need of medical support. The California Legislative Black Caucus does not support the Governor’s decision to veto this bill.”

The University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Family Medicine’s Student Run Homeless Clinics and University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, supporters of the bill, were also instrumental in helping craft it. 

“Sadly, the problems still exist that AB 369 was designed to eliminate. The lack of the Governor’s signature just adds one more barrier,” said Dr. Mary Marfisee, an assistant clinical professor and clinical programs director of the UCLA Homeless Healthcare Collaborative. “But we’re not giving up. We need the state of California to work with us experienced street providers to design solutions.”