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San Diego on forefront of launching first-in-the-nation Care Court program

This new program, set to begin next year, will use local courts to help provide treatment, services and housing to those who are mentally ill and on the streets.

SAN DIEGO — San Diego is on the forefront of what Governor Newsom is calling a "bold new strategy" to battle the homelessness crisis.

This week, San Diego brought together state, county and local leaders to begin the groundwork on launching California's new "Care Court" system.

This new program will use local courts to help provide treatment and housing to those who are mentally ill and on the streets.

San Diego is one of the first counties in California volunteering to launch this first-in-the-nation Care Court program, and hosted that inaugural meeting with leaders from throughout the state.

"We really rolled up our sleeves and got to work for how we're going to make Care Court work on the streets in San Diego next year," said County Board of Supervisors Nathan Fletcher, a strong supporter of the concept. 

The meeting here in San Diego brought together judicial and medical leaders from throughout the state, as well as the six other counties, including Orange, Riverside and San Francisco, that are stepping up as early adopters of this program along with San Diego.

"I think we've got to try something new to address the situation on the streets," Fletcher told CBS 8. 

Through this new approach, county courts will be empowered to order treatment for homeless people who are battling severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

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

"It really is assessing how many people will this apply to, what services do we think they'll need, how do we get those services ready," he added. 

Fletcher noted that one of the biggest challenges in gearing up for the launch of Care Court is staffing.

"We have a critical shortage of mental health and drug treatment staff, and we are now working to hire more people, recruit more people, train more people," he said. "And so one of the biggest limiting factors right now is just the availability of services." 

Some homeless advocates have raised concerns over the legality of this program, which would force individuals into psychiatric treatment or into a conservatorship, if they fail to follow the court-ordered plan.

Fletcher noted that Care Court is targeted toward those who are most gravely ill and in need of help.

"At the end of the day when someone is lying on the street, clearly suffering in their own feces, clearly not able to take care of themselves, I don't think it is compassionate or humanitarian to leave them in that condition," he added.

"We've got to find a way to get them some help. Then when they're clear-minded, they can make decisions in terms of what they want to do when they move forward."

Care Court is set to officially launch in October of next year, although Fletcher is hopeful that it could begin here in San Diego sooner, possibly in late summer. 

WATCH RELATED: CARE Court | How California takes steps forward in battle against homelessness crisis.


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