CA chief justice says courts will help with homelessness crisis

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People walk in Los Angeles’ Skid Row on Sept. 28, 2019. (Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

People walk in Los Angeles’ Skid Row on Sept. 28, 2019. (Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

California’s chief justice said Tuesday that she will appoint an advisory panel on how the court system might better help the state address its growing homelessness crisis.

That might involve transferring surplus properties to be used for shelters or housing, a process already underway for other state agencies, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said.

The working group will report to her later this year.

California courts in recent years “have become more than a place that resolves disputes. We have become centers for social justice,” she said in her annual state of the judiciary address to California lawmakers.

“Because we have become centers of social justice, and courts often see people who are in a crisis that can lead to homelessness, I will appoint a work group to study how we can become better partners in the crisis of homelessness,” she said.

The panel will consider, among other things, how courts can take a more active role; whether rules and laws should be changed to help homeless people who come to court; and whether judges can be temporarily assigned to help counties provide immediate services for people who are in crisis.

Two court properties could potentially be used for shelters, according to her staff. They include the Plumas-Sierra Courthouse in Porterville, a $6 million, 6,500-square-foot project that was completed in 2009 but is currently closed because of budget restrictions.

The other is Los Angeles County’s original mental health courthouse in a former pickle factory. The building has roof problems that would have to be fixed, however.

The court’s staff is developing a list of properties that could be declared surplus if they will no longer be needed by the judiciary.

While homeless populations in most states have declined recently, California’s increased 16% last year to about 151,000 people — “over 50% of the nation’s population of homeless,” she noted.

Cantil-Sakauye did not address Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal that the state broaden laws that would allow the government to more easily take control over those deemed unable to care for themselves.

Newsom, in his State of the State address, said the state must respect civil liberties while expanding laws that allow officials to get people in crisis into appropriate treatment.

Cantil-Sakauye in 2018 gave up her Republican Party affiliation, switching to no party preference because she said she was concerned about the nation’s increasing political polarization and incivility.

She made a brief reference to rising national “xenophobia and hostility” on Tuesday, and alluded to continued legal battles between California and the Trump administration.

State officials, she said, face “funding and litigation threats by our federal government that undermine our ability to address” vital issues such as the environment, health care, education, an aging population and homelessness.

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