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Gov. Newsom proposes plan to force some homeless people into treatment

California would require counties to provide comprehensive treatment to those suffering from debilitating psychosis and people would be obligated to accept the care.

CALIFORNIA, USA — San Diego's Mayor Todd Gloria joined Gov. Gavin Newsom at a news conference Thursday to announce a new framework to care for Californians struggling with severe behavioral health challenges and homelessness. 

California's governor unveiled a plan Thursday to offer more services to homeless people with severe mental health and addiction disorders even if that means forcing some into care, a move that many advocates of the homeless oppose as a violation of civil rights.

"We are taking a new approach," Governor Newsom said. "It is court-ordered, there is court oversight with specific stepped-up sanctions if you can't meet the plan: so that is what's different about this."

Mayor Gloria issued the following statement on his Twitter page:

"Proud to be working with Gov. Newsom today to develop CARE Court, a new approach to address critical mental health and addiction services for those who need it most. Our behavioral health system is broken. This is an important step toward fixing it." 

A first responder, family member, friend or clinician could refer a person to Care Court. A civil court judge would then set a course of treatment, including medication, support services, and a plan for housing.

Some homeless advocates, though, question the effectiveness of this proposed plan.

"There's a lot of people waiting for the care right now," said local advocate Mcihael McConnell, adding that says that the current lack of available and affordable housing here in San Diego is a major challenge.

"I don't care what laws you pass or what things you do," McConnell told CBS 8. "If  it's not heavily focused on the housing, it's not going to work."

While California's legislature approved $12 billion last year for homeless and housing services, Governor Newsom is requesting an additional $2 billion in the upcoming budget for mental health housing. $3 billion of this would fund 33,000 new beds.

Some advocates are also questioning the legality of this proposal, which would force individuals into psychiatric treatment or into a conservatorship, if they fail to follow the court-ordered plan.

 "We have to be very judicious," said Deacon Jim Vargas of Father Joe's Villages. "We do not want to take away people's civil liberties. Civil liberties in our country are sacrosanct."

In response, Newsom insisted that due process and civil liberties will be guaranteed.

"This is not just cops going out there, arresting folks and then throwing away the key and saying 'You have no rights and we are substituting every damn decision-making', " Newsom said. "This is a completely new strategy." 

While the overall price tag is still being worked out, if approved by the legislature in the upcoming budget, Care Court could be in place statewide by the end of this year.

Nathan Fletcher, Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, in response to Gov. Newsom’s California CARE Court Plan, issued the following statement:

“We appreciate the Governor’s commitment to being innovative and proactive in response to the needs of people with serious mental illness and look forward to working with his administration on this effort.” 

WATCH: Governor Newsom Unveils Plan to Care for Californians Struggling with Behavioral Health Challenges (Mar 3, 2022)

According to the Associated Press, the proposal by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, would require all counties to set up a mental health branch in civil court and provide comprehensive and community-based treatment to those suffering from debilitating psychosis. 

People would be obligated to accept the care or risk criminal charges, if those are pending, and if not, they would be subject to processes already in place, such as involuntary psychiatric holds or court conservatorships.

People would be obligated to accept the care or risk criminal charges, if those are pending, and if not, they would be subject to processes already in place, such as involuntary psychiatric holds or court conservatorships.

“One of the most heartbreaking, heart-wrenching and yet curable challenges that we face ... is how do we serve the needs of individuals who are the sickest of the sick?” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, at a news briefing in advance of a press conference by Newsom.

He said he expects the program called “Care Court” to apply to 7,000 to 12,000 people in California, although not all have to be homeless. Family members and outreach workers could recommend a person for a court-mandated program, which the governor's office plans to boost with more money for psychologists, treatment beds and services.

“The money is there. The investment is there. The beds are coming, the units are coming online,” said Jason Elliott, senior counselor to Newsom.

Currently, Laura’s Law in California allows for court-ordered outpatient treatment in certain conditions, but officials said it's only been used for about 200 people out of a state of nearly 40 million. Counties can opt of the program.

Some advocates for the homeless have objected to forced care, but Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle it is past time to talk about civil rights when people who are clearly in distress are ranting in streets and frightening or even attacking others.

"There’s no compassion with people with their clothes off defecating and urinating in the middle of the streets, screaming and talking to themselves,” said Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco.

Ghaly said Thursday that the plan is just the “beginning of a conversation" and that implementation would require legislative approval.


WATCH RELATED: Gov. Newsom proposes plan to force some homeless people into treatment (Feb. 2022).

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