Newsom's plan to force mentally-ill homeless into 'CARE court' treatment faces 1st hearing

Governor Gavin Newsom’s controversial plan to force some people into court-ordered treatment faced its first public hearing on Tuesday. The state Senate Judiciary Committee took public comment for a bill that would establish a CARE court, designed to get the severely mentally ill off the streets. 

"It offers hope and a path to a better life, to thousands and thousands of Californians and their families," said state senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), who co-authored SB1338, the CARE court framework

CARE stands for Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment.  The proposal would require every county to add an arm of the civil court, focused on mental health, which could push people into treatment and housing.  The state estimates it could help 7,000 to 12,000 people. "We need a different on-ramp," said state senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton).  "The things we’ve been trying have not been working in totality. A way that is more engaging on the upfront, a way that invites people into the process and a way that collaboratively makes a plan." 

The proposal is facing stiff opposition from homeless and disability advocates. "We don’t believe that forced care works well for people with mental health disabilities and we don’t feel there’s evidence based to support it," said Andy Imparato, the executive director of Disability Rights California. 

Several organizations signed a letter to the legislature, calling the plan "unacceptable" and raising a number of concerns: including the idea of forced care and racial disparities. "Let’s also make sure there’s not an unintended consequence for African-Americans who are disproportionately African-American and disproportionately getting these diagnoses," said Imparato. 

Ahead of the hearing, Newsom met with plan supporters, including some Bay Area mayors. During a visit to San Francisco, Newsom was asked to respond to opponents, he deferred to Mayor London Breed.  "This is not about people of color, civil liberties, this is about basic human dignity and we need to make the hard decisions in order to help people," said Breed. 

The governor’s office has not released a cost estimate of the plan. Newsom previously said he would like to sign the bill into law in July. 

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