AP

California governor OKs mental health courts for homeless

Sep 14, 2022, 2:48 PM | Updated: 4:39 pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — With more than 100,000 people living on California’s streets, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a first-of-its kind law on Wednesday that could force some of them into treatment as part of a program he describes as “care” but opponents argue is cruel.

Newsom signed the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Act on Wednesday. It would let family members, first responders and others ask a judge to draw up a treatment plan for someone diagnosed with certain disorders, including schizophrenia. Those who refuse could be placed under a conservatorship and ordered to comply.

Right now, homeless people with severe mental health disorders bounce from the streets to jails and hospitals. They can be held against their will at a psychiatric hospital for up to three days. But they must be released if they promise to take medication and follow up with other services.

The new law would let a court order a treatment plan for up to one year, which could be extended for a second year. The plan could include medication, housing and therapy. While it shares some elements of programs in other states, the system would be the first of its kind in the country, according to the office of Democratic state Sen. Tom Umberg, a co-author of the law.

For decades, California has mostly treated homelessness as a local problem, funneling billions of dollars to city and county governments each year for various treatment programs. But despite all of that spending, homelessness remains one of the state’s most pressing and visible issues.

“Continue to do what you’ve done and you get what you got. And look what we’ve got. It’s unacceptable,” Newsom said Wednesday before signing the law. “This (law) has been architected completely differently than anything you’ve seen in the state of California, arguably in the last century.”

Some progressives have spoken out against Newsom blocking certain priorities, including vetoing a bill that would have authorized supervised safe-injection sites for drug users and opposing a new tax on millionaires that would pay for more electric cars.

But in a year when Newsom is on his way to a shoo-in reelection bid with speculation building about his presidential aspirations, this new program prompted criticism from both sides of the political spectrum, with some on the left arguing it goes too far while others on the right saying it does not go far enough.

Newsom signed the law over the strong objections of the American Civil Liberties Union of California, Human Rights Watch, Disability Rights California and numerous other organizations that work with homeless people, minority communities and people with disabilities who say the new program will violate civil rights.

They say that courts are a frightening place for many people with severe mental illness and coercion is antithetical to the peer-based model that is critical to recovery. In other words, critics say, a person needs to want to get help and that could take months or years.

“There is absolutely no evidence that this plan will work. It’s just one more non-solution,” said Eve Garrow, policy analyst and advocate for ACLU of Southern California. “The research shows that adding a coercive element to either housing or mental health services does not increase compliance.”

The program is not exclusively for homeless people. It only applies to people who have a severe mental illness — mostly psychotic disorders — and only if they are unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision or are likely to harm themselves or others.

That means people struggling with alcohol and opioid addiction won’t qualify unless they have a diagnosed psychiatric disorder.

The Newsom administration estimates about 12,000 people could get help under the program. James Gallagher, the Republican leader of the state Assembly, said that’s not enough.

“Although better than nothing, (the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment) court essentially amounts to a new bureaucratic half-measure,” said Gallagher, who like most of his Republican colleagues voted for the bill in the state Legislature. “It’s not the groundbreaking policy change we need. It will help some severely mentally ill people get treatment, but will not stop the explosion of homeless camps in our communities.”

The program would not begin until next year, and only in seven counties: Glenn, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne must establish programs by Oct 1, 2023. All other counties would have until Dec. 1, 2024.

Each of California’s 58 counties would have to set up special courts to handle these cases. Counties that don’t participate could be fined up to $1,000 per day.

The biggest challenge for the new law will be having enough funding, housing and workers to implement it “without siphoning resources from the hundreds of thousands of county clients already counting on the vital behavioral health and substance use disorder services we provide,” said Michelle Doty Cabrera, executive director of the County Behavioral Health Director’s Association of California.

Newsom echoed those comments, saying implementation will be key. The state budget this year includes $296.5 million for the “Workforce for a Healthy California for All Program,” which aims to recruit 25,000 community health workers by 2025.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of California supports the proposal, as do business organizations and dozens of cities, including the mayors of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Diego.

They say treatment models and anti-psychotic medications have changed significantly since people were warehoused in institutions. The individual should be able to thrive in the community given the right clinical support team and housing plan, supporters say.

Newsom said he was “exhausted” by arguments from civil liberties groups that the program goes too far.

“Their point of view is expressed by what you see on the streets and sidewalks all across the state,” he said.

___

Beam reported from Sacramento, California.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Arizona and New York attorneys feud over extraditing suspect...

Associated Press

Why Alvin Bragg and Rachel Mitchell are fighting over extraditing suspect in New York hotel killing

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell says she isn't into extraditing a suspect due to her lack of faith in Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

3 days ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018. A 34-year-old Color...

Associated Press

Colorado man dies after being bitten by pet Gila monster

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death by one of the desert lizards if the creature's venom turns out to have been the cause.

4 days ago

Police clear the area following a shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football Super Bowl celebr...

Associated Press

1 dead, many wounded after shooting at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade

One person died after 22 people were hit by gunfire in a shooting at the end of the Kansas Chiefs' Super Bowl victory celebration Wednesday.

11 days ago

This image from House Television shows House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., banging the gavel after h...

Associated Press

GOP-led House impeaches Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — by one vote — over border management

Having failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the first time, House Republicans are determined to try again Tuesday.

12 days ago

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Kenya's Defense Minister Aden Duale, left, listen during...

Associated Press

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hospitalized with bladder issue

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalized following symptoms pointing to an “emergent bladder issue."

14 days ago

Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church, stands with his wife, Victoria Osteen, as he conducts a...

Associated Press

Woman firing rifle killed by 2 off-duty officers at Houston’s Lakewood Church run by Joel Osteen

A woman entered the Texas megachurch of Joel Osteen and started shooting with a rifle Sunday and was killed by two off-duty officers.

14 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

...

Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.

California governor OKs mental health courts for homeless