CA’s Governor Wants Mental Health Courts For Homeless People

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s governor unveiled a plan Thursday to create mental health courts in every county, allowing treatment for more homeless people with severe mental health and addiction disorders but also compelling some of them into care, a move that many advocates of homeless people oppose as a violation of civil rights.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a press conference that he has no intention of rounding people up and locking them away. Instead, he said his plan would offer a way for people to get court-ordered psychiatric treatment, medication and housing, preferably before they are arrested.

Under the plan, which requires approval by the Legislature, all counties would have to set up a mental health branch in civil court and provide comprehensive and community-based treatment to those suffering from debilitating psychosis. People need not be homeless to be evaluated by a court.

But if approved, they would be obligated to accept the care or risk criminal charges, if those are pending, and if not, they would be subject to being held in psychiatric programs involuntarily or lengthier conservatorships in which the court appoints a person to make health decisions for someone who cannot.

“There’s no compassion stepping over people in the streets and sidewalks,” Newsom told reporters at a briefing at a mental health treatment facility in San Jose. “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, a Democrat and former mayor of San Francisco, has made homelessness and housing a focus of his administration. Last year, the Legislature approved $12 billion for new housing and treatment beds for the homeless and this year Newsom has proposed an additional $2 billion, primarily to shelter people suffering from psychosis, schizophrenia and other behavioral health disorders.

It was not immediately clear how much the program might cost, although Newsom proposed in his budget this year more money for mental health services. He has called distressing behavior on the streets heartbreaking and maddening and says residents are right to complain that government is not doing enough.

People with addiction issues or mental health disorders often pinball among various public agencies, namely hospitals, court and jail. There is no one place that manages the person’s health, offering steady and safe housing combined with resource intensive care and California, like the rest of the country, suffers from a shortage of treatment beds.

Cities and states across the country are grappling with growing homelessness, as well as mental health crises. Nearly a quarter of California’s estimated 161,000 unhoused residents have a severe mental illness, according to a 2020 count of homeless people required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Nationally, the figure was just over 20% of an estimated 580,000 unhoused residents.

Newsom’s plan could apply to an estimated 7,000 to 12,000 people, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency.

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  1. Tracker1 says

    While mental illness has always been a factor in every society, America has done things to add hugely to that percentage here. Illegal or misuse of drugs, loss of family responsibility for selves, social dependency, inability to read, write, think, speak, free support of many/most of the none functioning have all resulted in generations of people that cannot function in any society. Any move to make people more responsible for themselves, with consequences when they don’t, will lead to problems for which there is no ready answer. Should our country be controlled by a communist type government, which many seem to favor by supporting socialism, would put all in a “fish or cut bait” situation – called survival of the fittest. Tough road for all.

  2. Larry Olds says

    How about sending them back to their home states?! Let their home state take care of them, why is it my responsibility to adopt the responsibility of the home state.

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