California CARE Court could help get homeless, mentally ill off the streets
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks in Santa Clara County on March 3 for the Court Care proposal. Photo courtesy of Momentum for Health.

    Gov. Gavin Newsom could change how the state handles its severe mentally ill—if he can persuade legislators to fund a proposal in the upcoming fiscal year budget.

    A Thursday morning event at Crossroads Village, a Momentum for Health mental health campus, brought together Silicon Valley advocates and politicians alike to learn about the new CARE Court program that could proactively address mental health care, which has been recognized as a crisis in Santa Clara County and across the state.

    A $3 billion allocation would target housing and supportive services specifically for individuals who suffer from severe mental illness and substance use disorders. The funding would add 33,000 beds statewide to treat these individuals in order to stop people from cycling between the streets and the jails.

    The mentally ill homeless make up about 38% of the unhoused population, and close to 50% in the jails.

    CARE Court could change that paradigm of treatment with a continuum of care approach. These supportive services would include court-ordered individualized intervention, medications, housing assistance and advanced mental health directives. All of which would be through community-based crisis intervention programs.

    “We need to stop trying to fix a broken system,” said Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Stephen Manley, who pioneered one of the first behavioral health court systems in the country. “What I see every day is moving us back to where we were 100 years ago. Where the answer for the mentally ill was to incarcerate them. Put them in a hospital and keep them there forever until they died.”

    This wraparound program would enable family members to advocate for needed treatment services before the individual is arrested or becomes homeless. Currently, families are forced to the sidelines and cannot participate with mental health providers or the criminal justice system in the care without the individual’s consent.

    “With this program in place, families will be able collaborate in the care of their loved ones,” NAMI Santa Clara County Executive Director Rovina Nimbalkar told San José Spotlight. “There will be accountability through the court system, and the family member will have a chance to stabilize and live a better life.”

    Individuals in this system will work with a public defender and a support person to help with decision making while going through treatment over a 12-24 month period, giving the individual a chance to stabilize.

    “We have been asking the wrong question and we have been trying to reform a broken system,” Newsom said. “In the margins we were reforming. If you look at what we have accomplished only 218 people have been served by Laura’s Law in the whole state.”

    This is different from assisted outpatient treatment, known as Laura’s Law, where an individual suffering from severe mental illness is involuntarily ordered into treatment through the behavioral health court system.

    State Sen. Dave Cortese, who spoke at the event, later told San José Spotlight he thinks this budget item will pass. He described it as a “major brick in the wall for mental health.”

    “This is an important change,” Cortese said. “The governor is trying to change the course of mental health by getting people out of harm’s way and getting them out off the streets.”

    Contact Moryt at @morytmilo on Twitter.

    Editor’s Note: Moryt Milo is a NAMI Santa Clara County board member.

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