SAN FRANCISCO– With more than 100,000 people living on the streets of California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a first-of-its-kind law 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 allow family members, first responders and others to ask a judge to develop a treatment plan for someone diagnosed with certain disorders, including schizophrenia. Those who refuse could be placed under guardianship and ordered to comply.
Right now, homeless people with serious mental disorders are jumping from the streets to prisons and hospitals. They can be held against their will in a psychiatric hospital for up to three days. But they must be discharged if they promise to take medication and follow up with other services.
The new law would allow a court to order a treatment plan for up to a 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, who co-authored the law.
For decades, California has treated homelessness primarily as a local problem, funneling billions of dollars to city and county governments each year for various treatment programs. But despite all that spending, homelessness remains one of the state’s most pressing and visible problems.
“Keep doing what you have done and you will get what you got. And look what we have. It’s unacceptable,” Newsom said Wednesday before signing the law. “This (law) has been designed completely differently than anything I have seen in the state of California, possibly 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 cars. electrical.
But in a year when Newsom is on course for a winning re-election bid with speculation surrounding his presidential aspirations, this new show has drawn criticism from both sides of the political spectrum, with some on the left arguing that it goes too far while others to the right saying it doesn’t go far enough.
Newsom signed the law despite strong objections from the American Civil Liberties Union of California, Human Rights Watch, Disability Rights California and many other organizations that work with the homeless, minority communities and people with disabilities who say the new program will violate civil rights.
They say that the courts are a scary place for many people with serious mental illness and coercion is the antithesis of 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 works. It’s just one more lack of a solution,” said Eve Garrow, policy analyst and advocate for the ACLU of Southern California. “Research shows that adding a coercive element to housing or mental health services does not increase compliance.”
The program is not exclusively for the homeless. It only applies to people who have a serious 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 opiate addiction won’t qualify unless they have a diagnosed psychiatric disorder.
The Newsom administration estimates that about 12,000 people could get help under the program. James Gallagher, the Republican leader of the State Assembly, said that is not enough.
“Although better than nothing, the (Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment) court essentially amounts to a new half-baked bureaucratic measure,” said Gallagher, who, like most of his fellow Republicans, voted for the bill. in the state Legislature. “It is not innovative policy change that we need. It will help some seriously mentally ill people get treatment, but it won’t stop the explosion of homeless encampments in our communities.”
The program would not start until next year, and only 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 Oct. December 2023. 1, 2024.
Each of California’s 58 counties would have to establish special courts to handle these cases. Non-participating counties 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 diverting resources from the hundreds of thousands of county clients who already have the vital behavioral health and substance use disorder services we provide.” Michelle Doty said. Cabrera, executive director of the California County Association of Behavioral Health Directors.
Newsom echoed those comments, saying implementation will be key. This year’s state budget includes $296.5 million for the “Healthy California for All Workforce Program,” which aims to recruit 25,000 community health workers by 2025.
The California National Alliance on Mental Illness 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 antipsychotic medications have changed significantly since people were institutionalized. The individual should be able to thrive in the community with 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.
“Your point of view is expressed in what you see on streets and sidewalks across the state,” he said.
Beam reported from Sacramento, California.