Sep 28, 2023 - News

San Francisco to roll out mental illness court next week

Photo of a person sitting on a sidewalk outside a tent in a homeless encampment

A homeless encampment in San Francisco on Aug. 28. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Starting in October, San Francisco will implement a new civil court process aimed at helping people with untreated schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders get off of the streets.

Driving the news: CARE court — the result of legislation championed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom — will allow first responders, family members, behavioral health providers and others to directly petition the court for behavioral health services.

How it works: If the court determines that the subject of the petition meets the threshold to qualify for the program, it will order an individualized treatment plan that includes medication, housing placements and wraparound services.

  • Participants who accept the supervised plan would remain under the purview of CARE court until the case can be dismissed.
  • If they refuse, they'll have access to a public defender and can opt out, though a CARE court judge could still refer them for a conservatorship — in which another person is appointed to make decisions for them — to force compliance.

What they're saying: Right now, "it's a fail-first system, not a care-first system, which means you have to end up in the criminal justice system before finally someone provides support and a bed and a solution," Newsom said in a Sunday appearance on CBS News' "60 Minutes."

  • This program will "direct access for people to get connected to services and for them to be referred to that care by those who know them best," Mayor London Breed said in a press release Wednesday.

Yes, but: Concerns remain about the level of resources needed to adequately run the program — and the possibility of civil liberties violations, which rights groups like the ACLU and Disability Rights California have raised.

What to watch: San Francisco is one of seven counties launching CARE court in October. Its rollout and results will inform the way remaining counties establish their own court before the state's deadline of December 2024.

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