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California’s New “CARE Court Plan” to Prevent Homelessness: Will it Work?

Governor Newsom has announced a new plan to address homelessness and provide treatment for individuals with mental illness. However, the CARE Court Plan has raised concerns among advocates for community members whose rights  it would impact.

On March 3rd, 2022, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom revealed a new plan to provide treatment for individuals struggling with mental illness or addiction in hopes of addressing the homeless crisis alive within the state. The CARE (Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment) Court Program will connect a struggling person with a court-ordered plan for up to 24 months. This plan would include “clinically prescribed, individualized interventions with several supportive services, medication, and a housing plan,” according to the Fact Sheet published by the state. This plan also states that if the CARE Plan is not successfully completed by the individual, they may legally be hospitalized or placed under a conservatorship, under the belief that no other suitable options are available. This program has been created to build off of Governor Newsom’s $14 billion multi-year investment to provide 55,000 new housing units and treatment slots.

Newsom formulated this plan based on evidence which shows that community-based treatment measures are the most effective for those struggling with homelessness, addiction, or mental illness. However, the CARE Court Plan has raised some concerns among unhoused and disability advocates. Their criticism centers around a fear of forcing unhoused people facing addiction or mental disorders into treatment. Involuntary care, or conservatorship, a form of court-appointed guardianship which strips people of the ability to make decisions regarding their finances, the care they receive, and their daily life. It threatens to take away the fundamental human right of choice. 

“Subjecting unhoused people to forced treatment is extremely draconian, and it would take us back to the bad old days of confinement, coercive treatment and other deprivations of rights targeting people with disabilities,” said Eve Garrow, policy analyst, and advocate at the ACLU of Southern California.

Studies have suggested that involuntary treatment is ineffective, yet voluntary treatments are often inaccessible to those in need. Evidence has also shown that the most effective treatment programs are less restrictive, and many are concerned that the CARE Court Plan will restrain the individuals that will be referred to the plan.

Governor Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle that he is “disgusted” by what is happening in the streets in terms of homelessness. But will this plan be effective in not only providing individuals facing mental illness or addiction with treatment but also diverting them from homelessness or incarceration? It is important to approach this new plan with a measure of skepticism. Providing those in need with treatment is crucial, but forcefulness can be ineffective and threaten their basic rights. The plan itself states that the courts are going to support its residents “without taking away people’s rights.” But if the state and the courts do not live up to this promise, it is imperative that we hold them accountable. We should be showing compassion to our unhoused community members. And this is not something we can do while also forcing them into environments that will take away their ability to make decisions regarding their lives.

Resources:

https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Fact-Sheet_-CARE-Court-1.pdf

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/mar/03/california-proposal-forced-unhoused-treatment

https://www.sfchronicle.com/sf/bayarea/heatherknight/article/Gavin-Newsom-Care-Court-mental-health-16973070.php

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