Mayor Todd Gloria
Mayor Todd Gloria makes a point during the livestreamed State of the City speech. Image from city

Gov. Gavin Newsom, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and other state leaders Thursday announced CARE Court — a policy framework intended to assist people living with untreated mental health and substance abuse challenges.

CARE — Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment — Court would provide a tool for local governments to help people with psychotic episodes gain access to behavioral health services and housing through a court-ordered care plan for up to 24 months, the governor said.

“CARE Court is about meeting people where they are and acting with compassion to support the thousands of Californians living on our streets with severe mental health and substance use disorders,” Newsom said.

“We are taking action to break the pattern that leaves people without hope and cycling repeatedly through homelessness and incarceration. This is a new approach to stabilize people with the hardest-to-treat behavioral health conditions.”

Under the new framework, the courts would require counties to provide the services for individuals deemed eligible. Plans would be managed by a community-based care team to ensure program participants avail themselves of needed mental health care, supportive services, medication and housing. In addition to this team, individuals in CARE Court would have a public defender and care manager to help them make self-directed care decisions.

“It’s time we face the painful but obvious truth: Our behavioral health system in California is broken. All of us see it every day on our streets, and it’s long past time we fix it,” Gloria said.

“Governor Newsom’s CARE Court proposal is a major step forward. It will provide individuals who are struggling with behavioral health issues a pathway to the housing and health services they need and give those who encounter these individuals a real way to provide help.”

The CARE Court is intended to be less restrictive than conservatorships and its proponents believe it could apply to a broader population of people experiencing homelessness. According to Gloria’s office, the proposal is based on evidence that many people can stabilize, begin healing and exit homelessness in less restrictive, community-based settings.

Some Republican leaders also supported the idea, but urged Democratic leaders to remain open to ideas from across the aisle.

“I applaud Gov. Newsom’s announced plan to get California’s most vulnerable population the treatment they desperately need,” said Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, who represents South Orange County, North San Diego County and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

“While my colleagues and I agree that treatment programs are an essential part of the solution to confronting the state’s homeless crisis, I encourage the governor to work with the legislature, across party lines, so that California gets the best possible policies to deal with this crisis.”

Gloria, who will help develop the program, said he will ensure CARE Court is put into practice locally once approved.

The Care Plan could be ordered for up to 12 months, with periodic review hearings and subsequent renewal for up to an additional year. However, participants who do not successfully complete Care Plans may be hospitalized or referred to conservatorship.

Counties across the state will participate in CARE Court under Newsom’s proposal. Local governments that do not carry out their specified duties under court-ordered Care Plans could be sanctioned by courts or have an agent appointed to ensure services are provided.

“We appreciate the governor’s commitment to being innovative and proactive in response to the needs of people with serious mental illness and look forward to working with his administration on this effort,” said Nathan Fletcher, chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.