Gavin Newsom’s state-mandated CARE Court system is supposed to take effect October 1, but San Francisco doesn’t have the facilities or the staff to make it work, if it works in the first place anyway.
When Gavin Newsom was mayor of San Francisco, his quote-unquote solution to the persistent homelessness problem was called "Care Not Cash." Now that he's governor, his statewide solution is a similarly named CARE Court (CARE stands for Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment), which passed the state legislature last summer, and would effectively compel more mentally ill people into treatment, with an emphasis on individuals with chronic homelessness and drug-abuse issues.
The idea, as Newsom framed it last year, would be divert those suffering from mental illness out of the criminal justice system, giving them the option of court-ordered medication and treatment in lieu of a criminal trial when a crime is committed — but when they are placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold, or referred to the court by an outreach worker.
But it’s no secret that San Francisco doesn’t have the beds to carry through with this plan. And with our state mandate to start the CARE Courts by October 1, the Chronicle reports San Francisco is wholly unprepared to implement CARE Court in a number of other ways too; the staffing isn’t there, and the state money may not come anywhere covering the cost.
“San Francisco now has seven months left to set up the program — a huge task in a city where until recently it took longer [than that] on average to hire one employee,” as the Chronicle shrewdly notes. The Chron also points out that city officials “estimate the new program will cost $51 million in its first year and argue that the $4 million they received from the state for startup costs is inadequate.”
The above figure is from a policy brief from the UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative and the California Policy Lab, which comes to the figure that 766 SF residents would be eligible for referral to CARE Court, based on a history of having had at least two psychosis diagnoses and four or more urgent or emergent visits for serious mental illness (SMI) in FY 2020. As the CARE Court law is written, “Judges would order counties to provide services including housing, treatment and other services for up to 24 months,” as the Chronicle explains. “If counties don’t comply, judges can fine them up to $1,000 a day.”
Yes, this is forcing people into care, and there’s already a lawsuit from disability advocates pending saying this strips people of their civil rights. Newsom’s deputy chief of staff Jason Elliott dismisses this as “status quo defenders [who] are militant in their desire to see nothing change,” and Newsom’s office argues that other state mental health investments will cover the cost.
SF is one of eight California counties being forced into this system. But in Newsom’s hometown, some officials are arguing this extra layer of mandatory bureaucracy is not well-funded enough to work — and is just CARE Court, without the cash.
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