Newsom signs court treatment plan for California homeless

A homeless man takes a nap on a sidewalk with two bottles of water in front of him in Skid Row in Los Angeles on August 31 (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A homeless man takes a nap on a sidewalk with two bottles of water in front of him in Skid Row in Los Angeles on August 31 (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)


Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law into law Wednesday at the centerpiece of his latest campaign to address California’s mounting homeless crisis, a program to force court-ordered treatment for residents with mental health and addictions.

Surrounded by elected officials and behavioral health providers in San Jose, Newsom signed legislation to create a new civil court system — the Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment Court, or CARE Court — intended to provide treatment and housing for people with severe forms of mental illness who are unable to care for themselves.

Senate Bill 1338 gives family members, first responders, and medical professionals, among others, a new path to obtain treatment for those with mental illness. The policy will not only require people to participate in treatment programs, but will also require counties to provide services to them.

Although CARE Court is also open to those with accommodation, Time and time again Newsom has coined it as an innovative tool for treating the non-hospitalized population in dire need – those living in miserable conditions who often cycle between streets, hospitals and prisons.

“This is a new paradigm,” Newsom said during a press conference at the headquarters of Momentum for Health, an organization that provides mental health services in Santa Clara County. “Keep doing what you’ve done and you’ll get what you got. And look at what we got. It’s unacceptable.

“We have the power to change this situation.”

Although legislators The plan was almost unanimously supported Some initial critics, disability rights groups and criminal justice advocates have come up with the idea remain staunchly opposedarguing that it ignores the civil rights of individuals by forcing them to be treated.

Other complaints against the bill include a lack of housing for everyone who needs it and concerns that it will disproportionately affect people of color.

Yves Garrow, a policy analyst and advocate for the Southern California Civil Liberties Union, said Wednesday she was shocked and concerned that the new legislation would “turn back the clock” on the progress of the disability rights movement.

“From our point of view, this is a solution other than a solution to the problem of homelessness and mental health crises affecting our condition,” Garrow said in an interview. “California desperately needs more housing and health care – that is the answer. California does not need an expanded adversarial court system.”

Newsom and local elected officials across California are facing increasing pressure to show progress in reducing homelessness, a pervasive problem that polls indicate is a major concern for residents.

Golden State is pouring more money than ever before into homelessness and mental illness. Over the past two years, the governor has earmarked $14 billion in his budget for homeless initiatives.

In Sacramento County, 34% of non-residential residents surveyed in 2022 reported having mental health problems. In San Francisco it was 36%. In the Greater Los Angeles area, a quarter of its non-residential residents suffer from serious mental illness, according to 2022 surveys.

Jessica Cruz, CEO of NAMI California, thanked the governor at Wednesday’s press conference for seeing that “there is a new path forward” for treating these individuals.

“We can treat people who have severe mental illness or substance abuse in a very humane way, but also sometimes in a way that gives them a little bit of a heads up to tell them they need help,” Cruz said.

Under the new legislation, California’s 58 counties must establish mental health courts and provide treatment for those diagnosed with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders.

For an individual referred to CARE Court, family members, first responders, behavioral health providers, and others can petition a civil judge who will order a clinical evaluation to assess whether the person meets the eligibility criteria. Participants must be 18 years of age or older, suffering from a severe mental illness, and either “unlikely to live safely in the community without supervision” or at risk of causing significant harm to themselves or others if their condition is not treated.

The governor’s office estimated that 10,000 to 12,000 people would qualify for the program, but county offices believe that number could be as high as 50,000, according to an assembly hall analysis.

If individuals are accepted into the program, they will be provided with a plan that includes treatment, medication, and social services, including prioritization of appropriate temporary housing. Through the programme, which can last up to two years, participants will be paired with a lawyer and personal advocate to help them deal with the situation.

Counties are required to provide housing, health care, and other services mandated by a court order. Failure to deliver orders may result in fines of up to $1,000 per day and possibly the assignment of outside oversight.

Despite the uproar on Wednesday about signing the law, key questions about the program were not answered, including whether there would be enough housing and staffing.

“Our work is not done,” said Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, the bill’s author. “We still need to implement this and there is a lot that needs to be done. But I think we broke the paradigm of just trying to fix the same broken system by creating an entirely new way of being able to handle this.”

State officials hope the tiered approach and an influx of money will help counties navigate uncharted waters.

“This is unprecedented support that we are committed to over the next few years to make this program a success,” Newsom said.

In response to initial concerns from local officials about the accelerated timetable for law enforcement, the program will be rolled out in two phases. The first batch of counties — Glenn, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne — are required to set up courts by October 1, 2023, while the rest of the counties have until December 1, 2024 to comply.

The 2022 state budget allocates $39.5 million for CAIR court start-up costs and $37.7 million in ongoing support, according to a legislative floor analysis. The California Judicial Board estimates that courts will need $40 million to $50 million to conduct additional hearings, expand self-help systems and modernize court administration systems.

This story was originally published September 14, 2022 11:46 am.

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Maggie Angus covers California politics and Governor Gavin Newsom in The Sacramento Bee. Prior to joining The Bee’s Capitol Bureau, she worked for Mercury News and East Bay Times where she covered San Jose City Hall and later wrote stories for the breaking news team.

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