Newsom’s mental health care plan for the homeless moves forward

Critics say there are not enough beds, homes and therapists for the program to work.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Governor Gavin Newsom The controversial proposal to refer homeless people with severe mental illness to treatment was approved by the state Assembly on Tuesday and is set to become law despite objections from civil liberties advocates who fear it be used to force homeless residents to receive care they do not want.

Homeless people with serious mental disorders often roam the streets, prisons and hospitals, with no single entity responsible for their well-being. They can be held against their will in a psychiatric hospital for up to 72 hours. But once stabilized, a person who agrees to continue taking their medications and following services must be released.

The bill the state Assembly approved Tuesday by a 60-2 vote would require counties to create a special civil court to hear petitions brought by family, first responders and others on behalf of a person diagnosed with specified disorders, such as schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders.

The court could order a plan for a maximum of 12 months and renewable for another 12 months. A person facing a criminal charge could avoid being punished by following a mental health treatment plan. A person who does not agree to a treatment plan may be coerced into it. Newsom said he hopes these courts catch people before they fall into the criminal justice system.

The bill represents a new approach for California to address homelessness, a crisis the state has grappled with for decades. The state government spends billions of dollars on the issue every year, only for the public to see little progress on the streets.

“I believe this bill is an opportunity for us to write a new narrative,” said Assemblyman Mike Gipson, a Democrat who voted for the bill.

The bill has now passed both houses of the state legislature and needs one more vote in the state Senate before going to Newsom’s office. Newsom has until the end of September to sign him.

The proposal received broad support from lawmakers who said it was clear California needed to do something about the mental health crisis visible along highways and on city streets. Supporters told heartbreaking stories of watching loved ones move in and out of temporary psychiatric detentions, with no mechanism to stabilize them in a long-term treatment plan.

Suzette Martinez Valladares, a member of the Republican Assembly, said her cousin, a Vietnam War veteran, lived on the streets in a homeless camp before his death.

“I wish my family had the tools that this bill is going to bring so that he is still alive and with us,” she said. “It will save lives. It was about time.”

Critics of the legislation have argued that the state lacks enough homes, treatment beds, outreach workers and therapists to care for those who need help, let alone those forced to take some. They say that people who choose to accept treatment are much more likely to succeed than those who are forced into it.

“At what point does compassion end and our desire to just get people off the streets and out of our public view begin?” said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat who said he reluctantly backed the bill on Tuesday. “I don’t think it’s a good bill. But it seems like the best idea we have at this point to try to improve a horrible situation.”

The bill states that Glenn, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties must establish courts by October 1, 2023, the others by December 1, 2024.

Courts could fine counties up to $1,000 a day for noncompliance, which counties say is unfair if they don’t have enough state support for compliance. housing and behavioral health workers.

“There won’t be a perfect solution to this problem. But it’s better than doing nothing and it’s all too easy in a democracy to throw a problem out on the road and do nothing,” the member said. Assemblyman Steve Bennett, a Democrat who voted for the bill. .

Har reported from San Francisco.

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