California Counties Open Mental Health Courts

Newsom says the program is meant to address homelessness crisis
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 2, 2023 6:35 PM CDT
Mental Health Courts Open in California
People ride their bikes past a homeless encampment set up along the boardwalk in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles in June.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

An alternative mental health court program designed to fast-track people with untreated schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders into housing and medical care—potentially without their consent—kicked off in seven California counties, including San Francisco, on Monday. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom created the new civil court process, called "CARE Court," as part of a major push to address the homelessness crisis. Lawmakers approved it despite deep misgivings over insufficient housing and services, saying they needed to try something new to help those suffering in public from apparent psychotic breaks, the AP reports.

Families of people diagnosed with severe mental illness rejoiced, because the new law allows them to petition the court for treatment for their loved ones. Residents dismayed by the estimated 171,000 homeless people in California cheered at the possibility of getting them help and off the streets. Others blasted the new program as ineffective and punitive given that it could coerce people into treatment. But as petitions roll in Monday, it's not clear whom the program might help nor how effective it will be. That's because the eligibility criteria is narrow and limited largely to people with untreated schizophrenia and related disorders. Severe depression, bipolar disorder, and addiction by itself do not qualify.

"It's hopefully going to help some people who need some help, and it is probably not going to make a huge dent in what you observe in the community," said San Francisco Superior Court Judge Michael Begert, who will supervise the court. Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, said last week that the program is aimed at catching people in need before their condition worsens, per the AP. San Francisco, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Glenn counties launched the program Monday. Los Angeles County will begin its program Dec. 1. The state estimates roughly 1,800 to 3,100 people could be eligible in the first seven counties. Los Angeles County could bump up estimates to 3,600 to 6,200, though uptake could take time.

(More California stories.)

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