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Housing and Homelessness

Is Newsom’s Proposed ‘Care Court’ A Solution To The Unhoused Crisis?

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a podium, his hands raised next to the microphone. He is wearing a dark suit and tie and a light-colored shirt.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed a new way to deal with mental illness among the unhoused.
(Justin Sullivan
/
Getty Images)
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Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposal to compel treatment in the most severe mental health cases — and its possible impact on people experiencing homelessness — is garnering praise, concern and conversations among behavioral health services advocates.

The “CARE court” would be an alternative to conservatorship and criminal court and would provide treatment for people “suffering from extreme, untreated psychotic illness or substance abuse and who cannot care for themselves.”

Michelle Cabrera, executive director of the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California, praised the governor for investing “real money” into the state’s behavioral health systems, but says a key component missing in the proposal is figuring out additional investment on the service side.

“If we don't pay for the program to expand, to have more boots on the ground, then we’ll have empty buildings and shortchange our promise to California about what we are endeavoring to accomplish with additional behavioral health services,” said Cabrera, comparing it to winning an RV in the lotto. “If I had an RV tomorrow that I don't have today, that's great, but I need gas to make it go. I need to pay for insurance and that's the piece that's missing.”

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If we don't pay for the program to expand, to have more boots on the ground, then we’ll have empty buildings and short change our promise to California about what we are endeavoring to accomplish with additional behavioral health services.
— Michelle Cabrera, executive director of the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California

Cabrera said more needs to be done to prevent low-income people from becoming homeless because her organization does not believe the mental health crisis is driving the homelessness crisis.

“There is much more evidence to suggest this is a failure of our social safety net,” she said, adding that older adults, Black people, LGBTQ youth and domestic violence survivors are among the many groups that face systemic bias and discrimination in L.A.’s competitive housing market.

“That's a long-term structural issue that has nothing to do with their condition and everything to do with whether we are set up as a society to care for people who have disabilities and for people who are older that affects their ability to make a living in California,” Cabrera said.

An example of that kind of situation would be Lisa Chilton, a 63-year-old Black woman who couch surfed for five years. Chilton struggled with debilitating injuries after a work accident and was on affordable housing waiting lists for years before her current apartment was offered through the Ariandne Getty Foundation Senior Housing, a charitable nonprofit.

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Cabrera said unhoused people trying to survive on the streets are also more likely to adapt to that trauma by turning to substances to cope with their experience.

Kath Rogers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California previously told LAist that forcing people into treatment could violate their civil rights because a 2019 California audit found counties already have authority to provide short-term involuntary treatment. Rogers also wondered why the state wants to turn to coercive treatment when people still don’t have access to voluntary treatment and permanent housing resources.

What questions do you have about homelessness?
Ethan Ward for a time lived in his car while attending community college. That experience informs his reporting on one of the most pressing issues in Southern California.