Battle lines have emerged in the debate over Gov. Gavin Newsom’s sweeping and controversial efforts to provide court-ordered treatment for homeless people with severe mental illness, with Democrats and local government officials split as the plan faces its first public hearing on Tuesday.
After Newsom introduced his Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court project in March as a tool to connect an estimated 7,000 to 12,000 people to housing and behavioral health treatment, mayors of some of California’s most populous cities quickly endorsed the so-called CARE Court plan, along with a handful of organizations that represent families with loved ones living on the streets.
But leaders of some homeless, civilian and disability rights groups have expressed serious concerns about the possibility of forced treatment and the lack of available housing to shelter all those in need. County leaders have raised questions about the possible cost and lack of manpower to provide intensive services.
Those concerns will likely be raised on Tuesday when the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear Senate Bill 1338. The measure is one of two nearly identical bills introduced this month to establish Newsom’s landmark plan, but the only one to move forward after the Assembly version was scuttled. days before his own hearing.
Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) said he voluntarily withdrew Assembly Bill 2830 “at the request of the administration” amid disagreement over amendments to include powerful advocacy groups to stifle opposition.
“I purposely blocked the bill to allow more time to discuss areas of concern and find common ground that best benefits those we want to help,” Bloom said in a statement. “I thought it was best to create a bit more breathing space for the discussions and I intend to stay fully engaged.”
In a scathing April 12 letter of opposition, the American Civil Liberties Union, California Action, Disability Rights California, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty, among others, denounced CARE Court’s plan as a model of forced treatment that would deprive participants of their personal freedoms. while doing little to help them find housing. They said Newsom’s efforts would exacerbate racial disparities in the justice system and that it was both constitutional and morally questionable.
“But none of these fundamental concerns or even operational issues have been resolved, months after we were told there was going to be a plan,” said Kevin Baker, director of government relations for the ACLU. . “There’s still nothing like a real effort here, it seems to me.”
Anthony York, Newsom’s senior communications adviser, said the administration is open to the changes and expects them, but the governor would not support amendments that “dilute the legislation to the point where it becomes ineffective.”
Ahead of his first public hearing, Newsom on Monday convened a coalition of first responders, medical professionals and business groups in Sacramento to rally support for his proposal, which he wants to enact by July 1.
Graham Knaus, executive director of California State Assn. of Counties, said CARE Court could be a promising strategy in the state’s fight to end homelessness, if there were enough skilled workers and a fully funded behavioral health system. The association is not formally opposed to SB 1338, Knaus said, but there remain significant questions about the proposal’s chances of success and how the different roles of counties and cities will be defined in this process.
“CARE Court is potentially a game-changing innovation and what we know is that no matter how deep or game-changing something may be, it’s not free and the details matter,” said he declared.
No cost estimate has been placed on Newsom’s plan, but the governor wants to spend $14 billion on homelessness solutions over the next few years. This includes $1.5 billion to add thousands of new homes that would also connect people to treatment services.
Supporters have argued that California can no longer afford to wait any longer to roll out CARE Court, as thousands of the state’s most vulnerable residents languish and die on the streets and in encampments.
“These people are mortally ill and sick. They are vulnerable. They don’t choose to be homeless. They can’t make that choice on their own,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said Monday at a homelessness news conference in Sacramento. “We decided that somehow it was okay if they told us, ‘No,’ to leave them on the sidewalk. [That’s] unacceptable, must change.
CARE Court could bring relief to families who have seen their loved ones cycle in and out of jail and back onto the streets, said Jessica Cruz, executive director of the California chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Cruz said she collected more than 200 letters from family members in support of SB 1338 before Tuesday’s hearing.
“We’ve been fighting for years to get some kind of this type of treatment for those who need it most,” Cruz said.
But serious political questions remain. Newsom focused CARE Court on people with psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, and people who lack medical decision-making ability. The new system would allow family members, first responders and behavioral health providers to apply to a civil judge to initiate a CARE plan for up to two years. The relief plan would provide a public defender and a personal advocate, a “sympathizer,” to help guide participants through the process.
A recent 41-page legislative analysis said it might be beneficial to amend SB 1338 to address concerns about who qualifies. The document also acknowledged concerns that California currently lacks behavioral health workers, particularly in the Central Valley and Inland Empire, and that the bill deviates from past efforts to install new health initiatives. through pilot programs, not massive statewide efforts.
“The level of interest and opposition to these measures makes it clear that they need to be carefully drafted and considered, taking into account the concerns of all stakeholders,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley), in a statement last week.
Stone could prove one of the obstacles to passing SB 1338 out of the Assembly, where the measure will shift if it passes the Senate — where initial support has been more unanimous.
“There are still challenges with the bill,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tom Umberg (D-Orange), whose committee will hear the bill on Tuesday. “But the vision of the bill is something I wholeheartedly agree with.”
Los Angeles Times