Groups sue to stop California from ordering homeless and seriously mentally ill people to receive treatment

Governor Gavin Newsom’s program requiring mentally ill Californians to seek treatment at the request of family members, caregivers and others has been challenged in state Supreme Court by advocates for the disabled and the poor, who say it should be allow those with such ailments to decide. if seeking attention

Beginning in October, when the law first goes into effect in some counties, “thousands of mentally ill homeless Californians will be threatened with court orders, forced into involuntary treatment, and taken off the streets, not because they are a danger to themselves or others, but because a judge has speculated that it is ‘probable’ that they will be so in the future,” the organizations said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

People with disabilities, according to the lawsuit, are still entitled to “autonomy and the right to make their own decisions about their lives, including where to live and what services and treatment to accept.” It was presented by Disability Rights California, the Western Center on Law & Poverty, and the Public Interest Law Project.

The program, approved by the Legislature with bipartisan support, is called CARE Court, for Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment. It will allow a family member, mental health or care worker, or law enforcement officer to petition a civil court to refer a person for treatment of a serious mental illness. The county behavioral health system would then decide if the person needs treatment that they are not already receiving. The mentally ill will receive legal representation but must comply with an order of care. The county agency would also prepare a plan for up to 12 months of medication and treatment, which could include placement in a care facility at government expense.

Newsom says between 7,000 and 12,000 people will receive care under the plan. It will go into effect in two phases, with eight counties starting in October 2023 and the rest in December 2024. The Legislature has budgeted $57 million for the program this year.

“There is no mercy for naked people defecating and urinating in the middle of the streets, screaming and talking to themselves,” Newsom told The Chronicle last March when announcing the proposal. “There is nothing appropriate about a child and a mother going down the street trying to get to the park and being accosted by people who clearly need help.”