Government moves Newsom’s mental health court plan amid concerns

Jenny Har | The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A controversial proposal by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to include more homeless people in mental health treatment is making its way through the Legislature, struggling to address a problem reaching every corner of the state. Despite the deep misunderstanding of the MPs.

Legislators are concerned that there is not enough guaranteed staffing or housing for the program to be successful, while vulnerable individuals are forced into court-ordered services against their will. Still, the bill passed the Senate unanimously last month, and passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, one of several stops before being voted on by the full chamber.

But the proposal didn’t even get its first vote, and members frustrated by the status quo stressed how important all the pieces – housing, services, trained staff, heartfelt support – are for the program to work.

“I know we can all agree that the current system is broken and failing. You can walk outside this building and go a few blocks…and see those failures every single day,” said assembly Matt said Haney, a Democrat who lives in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, where people with open drug use and homelessness continue to suffer serious mental health breakdowns in common places.

“We are in dire need of a paradigm shift,” he said at a judiciary hearing on Tuesday.

Newsom, a Democrat and former San Francisco mayor, has made homelessness a priority for his administration, devoting billions of dollars to converting motels into housing and pitching for clear camps. He proposed spending $2 billion to build more treatment beds this year, and in March, he proposed setting up special mental health courts in every county to link services to homeless individuals with schizophrenia or other mental disorders.

About a quarter of California’s estimated 161,000 non-domesticated residents have a serious mental illness. They pinball in prisons, emergency rooms, temporary psychopaths and between the streets until they are arrested for a minor crime and brought before a judge who can order them into a long-term treatment plan.

Newsom said his proposal allows family members, emergency dispatchers and others to refer the person for help, and preferably before the person commits a crime. He has said that it is not kind to let the distressed people deteriorate on the streets.

In a statement praising the bill’s progress, he said, “Care Court is about meeting people where they are and working with compassion to support the thousands of Californians who live on our streets, but who Our help is needed the most.”

The goal is for the individual to voluntarily accept services, but the law may result in forced treatment, Newsom has said, which advocates for civil liberties. It does not guarantee housing or provide dedicated funding, and comes at a time when psychologists and other behavioral health specialists are in high demand. Critics of the law also say that forced treatment will fail.

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