California lawmakers decided on Tuesday to move forward with a proposal that could force those who are homeless and severely mentally ill into treatment.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s CARE Court proposal was voted on by members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee.
Despite the proposal passing the committee with unanimous support, the controversial plan has several hurdles ahead.
“There are thousands of Californians who are languishing, homeless or incarcerated, and this impacts families throughout the state of California,” said state Sen. Tom Umberg, D-Orange County.
The plan aims to get the most severely mentally ill off the streets or out of jail and into court-ordered care.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly was a witness in support. He said it’s expected to help between 7,000 to 12,000 people.
“Although homelessness has many faces in California, one of the most tragic yet treatable is experienced by the sickest of the sick who often need effective treatment and support to identify the road to recovery and stability,” Ghaly said.
But the measure faced fierce opposition from several disabilities, mental health and civil liberty groups who have concerns with forced treatment.
“We don’t believe forced care works well with people with mental health disabilities, and we don’t think there’s a good evidence base to support it,” said Andy Imparato, with Disability Rights California.
Others raised concerns about a lack of housing, workforce and how it could worsen racial disparities, with some noting Black Californians make up more than 40% of the state’s homeless population.
“Overdiagnosis of Black men with schizophrenia is well documented, and that is yet another disparity. My fear is that CARE Court will perpetuate disparities through a court process rather than address the structural causes,” said Keris Myrick, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Newsom was asked to respond to the criticism at an event in San Francisco on Tuesday. Instead of answering, he brought up CARE Court supporter Mayor London Breed to the microphone.
“This is not about people of color, minorities, civil liberties. This is about basic human decency,” Breed said.
Democrats have acknowledge the plan has divided some of them from each other and from groups they typically work with.
“We’re asked to make a decision that might violate what we’ve always believed in, the freedoms, the civil liberties that we all believe in. So, I just want to say in making this decision it’s tough, but it’s tougher to see human beings on the street like that,” said Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles.
Ultimately, the proposal passed the State Senate Judiciary Committee with a vote of 10-0. It now heads to the Senate Health Committee.
How much CARE Court could cost is still to be determined.