California has initiated a new civil court program called “CARE Court” in seven counties, including San Francisco, aimed at expediting individuals with untreated schizophrenia and related disorders into housing and medical care, potentially without their consent.
This program is part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s efforts to tackle the homelessness crisis in the state. While it has received mixed reactions, it offers families and first responders the ability to petition the court for treatment for loved ones suffering from severe mental illness.
- Background: California has faced a growing homelessness crisis, with an estimated 171,000 homeless individuals in the state. The “CARE Court” program was created to provide assistance to people suffering from apparent psychotic breaks and severe mental illness.
- Eligibility Criteria: The program is narrow in scope and primarily targets individuals with untreated schizophrenia and related disorders. Severe depression, bipolar disorder, and addiction, on their own, do not qualify for the program. Eligibility is not limited to homeless individuals.
- Petition Process: Family members and first responders can file a petition on behalf of an adult who they believe is in danger without supervision, whose condition is deteriorating rapidly, or who needs services and support to prevent serious harm to themselves or others. The county behavioral health agency evaluates eligibility, and the individual is appointed a lawyer and a support person.
- Voluntary Plan: If the court determines that the individual meets the criteria, they will work with the county to develop a voluntary plan that includes housing, medication, counseling, and other social services. This agreement can last up to one year, with the possibility of an extension.
- Involuntary Treatment: Concerns have been raised about the potential for vulnerable individuals to be forced into treatment. If a person does not complete the plan, they could be subject to conservatorship and involuntary treatment, but the court can also dismiss the proceedings if the individual declines to participate.
- Resource Shortages: Critics argue that there are insufficient case managers, in-patient treatment facilities, and supportive housing to meet the needs of individuals in the program. While money has been allocated for emergency shelters, opponents believe more investment should have been made in existing services and housing.
- Counties Participating: Seven counties, including San Francisco, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Glenn, have already launched the CARE Court program. Los Angeles County is set to start its program on December 1. The rest of the state has until December 2024 to establish similar mental health courts.
The “CARE Court” program in California aims to address the mental health crisis and homelessness by fast-tracking individuals with untreated severe mental illness into housing and medical care. While it offers potential benefits, such as allowing families to seek help for loved ones, concerns have been raised about resource shortages and the potential for involuntary treatment. The program’s success and impact on the homelessness crisis will likely be closely monitored in the coming years.