California

As homeless backlash rises, Newsom pitches forced mental illness treatment

With the state’s homelessness crisis as the top concern of average Californians and perhaps the ultimate albatross for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s tenure leading the Golden State, he announced Thursday a plan to institute court-ordered mental health care for homeless populations resistant to treatment.

Newsom dubbed the proposed mental health branch of the California judiciary the “CARE Court,” short for Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment.

“This is about accountability, but it is about compassion, and it’s about recognizing the human condition,” Newsom told the Los Angeles Times.

But the patience of Californians, particularly after heavy-spending before and during the pandemic, to resolve the situation has run thin.

“There’s no compassion with people with their clothes off defecating and urinating in the middle of the streets, screaming and talking to themselves,” Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle. “There’s nothing appropriate about a kid and a mom going down the street trying to get to the park being accosted by people who clearly need help.”

The proposal would require all 58 California counties to participate via civil divisions of their Superior Courts. Counties would face financial penalties if they don’t follow the program.

The mental health court is not exclusive to homeless populations, Newsom’s administration said. Qualifying for court-ordered services would require an assessment of the individual.

The pivot to forced mental health services comes after Newsom and his administration have spent roughly $13 billion in an effort to combat the growing scourge of homelessness on the streets from San Ysidro to Eureka.

An audit conducted by California State Auditor Elaine Howle described the various housing programs and homeless relief efforts as “disjointed.”

Republican lawmakers on Thursday said there was little in Newsom’s announcement that was persuasive that the Democratic-dominated Legislature would turn back on its strategy of avoiding mental health services.

“I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times Newsom and Capitol Democrats have celebrated their phony victories on homelessness,” Assembly GOP Leader James Gallagher (R–Yuba City) said in a statement. “While they pat themselves on the back, the homeless camps keep growing. Even worse, Californians suffering from severe mental illness and drug abuse are left untreated, living in squalor. 
 
“There is nothing compassionate about Newsom’s status quo homeless agenda of letting people suffer and die on the streets. And nothing in today’s flashy announcement gives me confidence that Capitol Democrats are going to suddenly change their ways.”

Republicans are currently pushing Assembly Bill 2020, which aims to expand the definition of “gravely disabled” persons from a 1967 law that shrunk the scope of California’s mental health infrastructure.

Reid Stone is a contributing reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun.