Thursday, March 28, 2024

California takes on homelessness and mental illness

A new initiative, called CARE Court — for Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment — is a cornerstone of California’s latest campaign to address the intertwined crises of mental illness and homelessness on the streets of communities up and down the state, reported The New York Times.

Another piece of the effort is Proposition 1, a ballot measure championed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and narrowly approved by California voters this month. It authorizes $6.4 billion in bonds to pay for thousands of treatment beds and for more housing for the homeless — resources that could help pay for treatment plans put in place by CARE Court judges. 

And Mr. Newsom, a Democrat in his second term, has not only promised more resources for treatment but has pledged to make it easier to compel treatment, arguing that civil liberties concerns have left far too many people without the care they need.

So when Ms. Collette went to court, she was surprised, and disappointed, to learn that the judge would not be able to mandate treatment for Tamra.

Instead, it is the treatment providers who would be under court order — to ensure that medication, therapy and housing are available in a system that has long struggled to reliably provide such services.

“I was hoping it would have a little more punch to it,” Ms. Collette said. “I thought it would have a little more power to order them into some kind of care.” 

Yet it seemed like her only option, so she made the petition and hoped.

CARE Court is Mr. Newsom’s bid to balance the very public and very political problem of homelessness with profound questions about individual rights in a country that for generations forced people with severe mental illness into dangerous, dysfunctional institutions.

Under Gov. Ronald Reagan, California led the country in a national movement to end widespread practice of committing the mentally ill to state institutions. But like the rest of the country, the state didn’t ensure that adequate resources were shifted to community services.

Mr. Newsom, in signing the legislation that set up the new courts, nodded to this history, calling it California’s “original sin.”

That failure helped seed the crisis that plays out in city after city.

The state’s growing homeless population — just over 180,000 people, according to federal statistics, more than a quarter of the nation’s homeless — has city parks and spaces underneath freeway overpasses bulging with encampments, and those clearly in mental distress are a common sight in communities up and down the state.

“Continue to do what you’ve done, and you’ll get what you’ve got,” Mr. Newsom said when he signed the CARE Court legislation. “And look what we’ve got. It’s unacceptable.”

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