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A New Approach for People With Severe Mental Illness

Policymakers in California have been working for years to change existing laws and address the issue of severe mental illness among the homeless population. California has a significant homeless population, with a large proportion suffering from schizophrenia and other serious psychotic disorders. The authorities believe that providing treatment and medication to these individuals could make a significant impact on the state’s homelessness crisis.

However, some individuals resist receiving care, and there are laws in place that make it challenging to force people into treatment due to past abuses and coercion in mental health institutions. As a result, the state is introducing a new program called CARE Court (Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court). This program will empower relatives, healthcare providers, and homeless outreach workers to ask state courts to compel certain individuals with severe mental illness to accept treatment. The treatment will be provided by county government and will only apply to untreated individuals with specific diagnoses.

The goal of CARE Court is to provide care for adults who refuse treatment and often end up in crisis situations, such as emergency rooms, jails, or homeless shelters. Judges will have the authority to order evaluations and, if necessary, up to two years of treatment, including medication prescriptions and assistance in finding housing. If an individual refuses to enter treatment voluntarily, the court can order hospitalization or assign a conservator to make medical and financial decisions on their behalf.

CARE Court will be implemented gradually, starting in seven counties on Monday and expanding to Los Angeles County in December. State health officials anticipate a small initial enrollment, with around 1,800 to 3,100 eligible participants during the first rollout. The program will not expand to the rest of the state until next year.

The program has received both criticism and support. Some critics believe it goes too far, while others, especially relatives of mentally ill individuals, are concerned that it is not coercive enough. Advocates for people with disabilities and civil rights groups challenged the program in court, arguing that it violated due process and equal protection rights. However, the law withstood the challenge, and the California Supreme Court refused to strike it down.

State health officials hope that the CARE Court program will be effective in addressing the homelessness crisis among individuals with severe mental illness. They acknowledge that current approaches to homelessness are not effective, especially for those with severe behavioral health conditions.

In addition to the CARE Court program, there are other proposals to change behavioral health policy in California. Next year, voters will decide on increasing state funding for mental health and allocating more funds to programs that provide housing for homeless individuals.

Overall, the success of the CARE Court program remains to be seen, but state health officials believe it is a necessary step in addressing the complex issue of homelessness among people with severe mental illness in California.