United States: California should adopt housing and treatment options that work

(Sacramento) – A recently passed California measure that its supporters say will address the needs of homeless people is open to abuse and risks failing to provide people with the housing and services they need, Human Rights Watch said today. today. The bill, the Community Assistance Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court Program, or SB 1338, allows for involuntary “dismissal” by family members, police, outreach workers and agencies who place a person under the jurisdiction of the new CARE tribunal.

The bill aims to target people on the schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders, but because black and brown people are often diagnosed and misdiagnosed with these conditions, it will affect them disproportionately. These same groups are most often denied access to voluntary health care and, due to discrimination in housing, employment, policing and other factors, constitute a grossly disproportionate number of homeless people.

“The so-called ‘CARE Court’ is not about care at all – it plays on prejudice against people who are homeless and living with mental health issues to create a coercive system of court-ordered treatment when we know that involuntary treatment is ineffective and inhumane,” said Olivia Ensign, senior US program attorney at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of pouring millions of dollars into self-defeating coercive measures, lawmakers should invest in proven treatment and support programs.”

Governor Gavin Newsom proposed the CARE Court in March 2022. In the face of continued opposition from a long list of disability, racial justice, peer-led groups and other civil rights and rights advocates, including Human Rights Watch, the California legislature passed the bill. in August. Bill now heads to Newsom for his signature.

Involuntary referral to court may result in a judge’s order, called a CARE plan. This plan can include an order that exerts power over fundamental areas of a person’s life, including medication, housing, and other services and supports. Failure to follow this CARE plan may result in further intervention, including possible guardianship, which may rob a person of their ability to make decisions about their own life and deny them the right to autonomy over their own health.

The new law will divert resources from existing behavioral health and housing initiatives, potentially including successful community voluntary treatment, housing programs and other social supports. The CARE Act does not create new behavioral health resources or accommodations. Instead, it redirects money already in the budget to programs required by a CARE plan, putting additional pressure on resources that are already scarce.

“Politicians who promoted the CARE Tribunal have repeatedly and incorrectly asserted that it provides ‘voluntary’ treatment, when in fact the whole system is based on coercion,” Ensign said. “A person’s ability to access essential services and housing should not depend on the control of the courts.”

About Antoine L. Cassell

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