SACRAMENTO — Legislation that could require homeless people with serious mental health issues to undergo court-ordered treatment passed through the Assembly Tuesday night. SB 1338 establishes the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court or CARE Court.
SB 1338 passed through the Senate 40-0 and will now be sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.
CARE Court advocates view Newsom’s proposal as a way to address both mental health and homelessness problems throughout California. Assembly member Heath Flora (R-San Joaquin, 12th District) says CARE Court is a good change of pace.
“For a long time on the floor we’ve talked about what we can do different — this is a great step. The very definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again. This is different, and it deserves our support and I encourage that,” Flora said.
Other lawmakers, like Assembly member Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance, 66th District), have reservations, but feel the system is worth trying out.
“I don’t think this is a great bill, but it seems to be the best idea that we have at this point to try to improve an awful situation,” Muratsuchi said.
While some see CARE Court as a step forward in solving the problem of homelessness in California, many disability and civil rights advocates feel CARE Court infringes on people’s rights and would end up doing more harm than good.
Eric Harris, the Director of Public Policy for Disability Rights California, notes the legislation was put together without the consultation of leaders in the mental health space. He emphasized how CARE Court would take away people's individual rights.
“Some of the folks who we’ve talked to, who have bipolar disorder, other significant mental disabilities, they say the last place I want to be is in court,” Harris said. “That’s not somewhere I want to go. I don’t want to go to court. I don’t want to be institutionalized.”
Harris highlighted the people most likely to be affected by CARE Court are people of color.
A recent report by the California Reparations task force found that people of color, specifically Black men, are more likely to be misdiagnosed with Schizophrenia and other mental health problems targeted by CARE Court.
“What we’re trying to warn everyone here is we don’t want anybody — but especially the most marginalized communities, Black and Latinx communities, LGBTQAI+ communities — to be mistreated, harmed, taken into a conservatorship, when we can offer them housing and services instead,” Harris said.
Diana Burdick has a son who is homeless and struggles with mental illness. She says CARE Court would allow people like her son to receive the help they need.
“I think that we have the ability to make a change and I think we need to do that,” Burdick said.
Burdick believes people are already having their civil rights taken away by not having access to treatment for mental health disabilities
“The civil rights, they’re already gone because his mind is diminished. He doesn’t even get that he can vote. He doesn’t even get… he doesn’t understand. So, what civil rights?” Burdick said.
Harris understands the real fear of parents for their children, however, he thinks state Legislature should explore other options.
“We disagree that this is the best way to do it. We think voluntary services and we think that housing availability, accessible and affordable housing availability is the best way to combat the problem,” Harris said.
CARE Court will first be implemented in seven pilot counties: Glenn, San Diego, San Francisco, Tuolomne, Stanislaus, Orange and Riverside.
The seven counties would have to roll out CARE Court by Oct. 2023, while the rest of the state would need to do so by Dec. 2024.
A $57 million onetime investment is included in the plan to help counties plan and prepare for CARE Court.