Mental Health

California governor backs mental health courts that could compel people into care

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homeless person on steps

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom is trying to fight homelessness with a proposal to create a mental health “CARE Court” in every county that could compel treatment for those with severe mental illness.

People could be referred to the courts by people who include family members, first responders, social service agencies and mental health providers, according to a March 3 press release and fact sheet.

The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times have coverage of the plan, which would require legislative approval.

The court could order stabilization medication and housing assistance for a year, which could then be renewed for an additional year.

In criminal cases, people in CARE Court, or Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court, would have to accept the care or risk prosecution, according to the AP. In other cases, people who don’t complete their treatment plans could be forced into hospitalization or conservatorships.

The proposal would require counties to provide comprehensive treatment to the most severely impaired. The focus is on people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders without medical decision-making capacity, according to the press release.

People in the court would have a public defender to represent them and access to a care team.

The AP covered Newsom’s press conference Thursday.

“There’s no compassion stepping over people in the streets and sidewalks,” Newsom said. “We could hold hands, have a candlelight vigil, talk about the way the world should be, or we could take some damn responsibility to implement our ideas and that’s what we’re doing differently here.”

Newsom said the costs of the plan could total “billions and billions of dollars” over several years.

Among those expressing reservations was Kevin Baker, director of government relations for ACLU California Action. He told the AP in an email that homelessness is caused by high housing costs, “and we won’t solve homelessness, mental health or substance abuse problems by locking people up and drugging them against their will.”

The San Francisco public defender’s office said the problem has to be tackled with better funding for mental health.

“As it stands, because of the drastic under-funding of our mental healthcare system, our clients are waiting [anywhere from] nine weeks to six months in jail for treatment,” the office said in a statement cited by the AP.

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