CA Gavin Newsom CARE Court idea for the homeless is overdue


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A really brilliant college classmate with a debilitating mental illness contacted me a few years ago, seeking help in finding a job. At that point I realized that Joe had shown all the symptoms of schizophrenia even when we were in school.

When we met for lunch, however, he was in worse shape than I feared. In fact, he was living in a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C., having spent everything he inherited from his parents on higher degrees from schools that relieved him of all his assets and none of his hustle. .

I told him the truth, that he needed treatment more than work leads, and offered to work with him to find the help he needed. Help for what, he kept repeating, when his only problem was the many people and institutions that conspired to keep him unemployed. He was screaming at the time, as he did every time we spoke.

And you know, I would also scream if I had a disease so cruel that it prevents me from having any kind of life, and even from seeing this disease for what it is.

Two years ago, Joe Slovinec died in a shelter in his hometown of Chicagoso alone that for long months the friends he had rejected did not know he was gone.

He never received treatment, refusing all services until the end. And died happily free of government intrusion in his freedom to slip away unnoticed.

So you bet I support Governor Gavin Newsom’s controversial plan to “take some damn responsibility to implement our ideals” by making sure people like Joe get the care that the symptoms of their *&^% of a disease may prevent them from treating.

One of the many criticisms of Newsom’s proposal Court for Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment is that it is coercive. And yes, it is, because for people like Joe, it has to be.

What irritates me the most is that even after all these years of looking for solutions, only the scale of the problem of people living on the streets has changed. And while it’s still true that seriously mentally ill people are more likely to be victims than to be a danger to others, the new P2P methamphetamine makes those who take it more violent, causing paranoia, hallucinations, rapid brain damage and, yes, an explosion of homelessness.

As stated in a detailed report November 2021 report in The Atlantic, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder usually present in young people. Now, however, in the wake of this purer, cheaper, and more plentiful form of methamphetamine, “people in their 30s and 40s with no history of mental illness seemed to be going insane…In the Los Angeles area, the sans -shelter has more than doubled from 2012 to 2020”, while “the most visible homelessness – people sleeping on the sidewalks or in the tents that now populate many parts of the city” is “clearly due to the new methamphetamine”.

So yes, it is high time to try new and even desperate measures, and that is exactly what Newsom’s Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court is all about.

The new system would allow family members, first responders and behavioral health providers to apply to a civil judge to initiate a CARE plan for up to two years.

A friend who runs treatment programs in another blue state sees this as a desperately needed approach. But if she even mentions it, she is reviled by disability advocates who view forced treatment as a human rights violation that criminalizes mental illness and addiction.

But our prisons are already full of people who are there because they are sick — and who might not be there if they had received the kind of long-term treatment that this program would provide.

Critics say it would be a waste of money better spent on education and early intervention, but what about those for whom it is too late for early intervention?

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tom Umberg said those who defend the plan, like him, are as concerned as critics that there is too little housing that is “a critical part of stabilizing , both for the purposes of treatment and family reunification”.

There is also a shortage of mental health professionals, who are underpaid and vulnerable to burnout.

But what we’ve been doing for over 40 years hasn’t worked. As State Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, said, “these are people who are tending toward death.” Their stories do not end well.

And as much as I appreciate the effort to protect their civil liberties, I care more about keeping them alive, and maybe even helping them have more life.

There are thousands of Joe Slovinecs, and to continue doing things as before is really to abandon them.

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Melinda Henneberger is the local columnist for The Sacramento Bee. She has covered crime, local and state government, hospitals, social services, prisons and national politics. For 10 years she was a reporter for The New York Times in New York, Washington, DC and Rome. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2022, was a Pulitzer Finalist for Commentary in 2021, for Editorial Writing in 2020, and for Commentary in 2019. She received the Mike Royko Award for Commentary and Writing for News Leaders Association columns in 2022 and 2019, as well as the Scripps Howard Walker Stone Award for Opinion Writing in 2018.

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