By Jay Caspian Kang: For Complete Post, Click Here…
If the homelessness crisis in California can offer any lessons to the rest of the country, it’s what politics looks like when a restless and beleaguered public places pressure on politicians to do something — anything — about a complex and seemingly intractable problem. The state has spent billions of dollars a year and tried a variety of solutions; none has put much of a dent in the public face of homelessness — the tent encampments of unhoused people that have sprung up throughout every major city in the state.
In an earlier newsletter, I outlined what I think is the emerging ideological battle line in the homelessness crisis, not only in California, but also throughout the country. There are housing-first advocates who believe that a greater supply of subsidized, supportive and affordable housing is necessary to end homelessness not only for the people on the streets but, perhaps more important, also for the people who are about to be short on a rent payment and will soon be living in their cars, in motels or in shelters. The other side, which I’ll call “mental health and addiction first,” believe that a liberal and permissive culture around homelessness in California’s cities has opened the floodgates for mentally ill and drug addicted people from around the country to set up camp in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Until now, the housing-first people have largely won the significant battles in both the federal government and the state of California, which both adopted their policies in the mid-2010s. But there are signs that some of this might be changing, in large part because of people’s frustrations with the lack of visible change.
Last week, the California State Assembly passed a bill proposing the creation of the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court program, or CARE Court, with a 9-to-1 vote. In the State Senate, the vote was 38 to 0 in favor. The bill, which must still make it through a few more political hurdles to become law, establishes a “framework to deliver mental health and substance use disorder services to the most severely impaired Californians who too often languish — suffering in homelessness or incarceration — without the treatment they desperately need.”
What this means on a practical level is that if a police officer, behavioral health provider or family member observes someone acting erratically and suspects the person is suffering from a mental health breakdown, the observer can submit a petition for referral to a CARE Court, even if that person has not committed a crime. The person will then receive a “clinical evaluation” to diagnose “schizophrenia spectrum or other psychotic disorders.” If any is found, the person will be appointed counsel and be entered into a CARE plan, receiving treatment in the form of counseling and court-ordered “stabilization” medications. State Senator Tom Umberg, an author of the bill, told me that it is aimed at somewhere around “7,000 to 12,000 individuals in California” with “schizophrenia or schizophrenia-like conditions” who he says are “very difficult to reach, very difficult to stabilize and very difficult to bring back into society.”