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CARE Courts coming to California in 2023

A faded American flag hangs outside of a pitched tent on the Santa Ana River trail as an unhoused person walks into the tent in Anaheim on Jan. 22, 2018. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo

A new court system to address the needs of people with severe mental illness who are often homeless will launch in some counties in 2023.

Veronica Kelley, behavioral health director of Orange County. Kelley argued the program was not too different from other courts already in place. She cautioned against seeing the law as a silver bullet solution to homelessness, one of the biggest challenges California faces.

“I think having a program like CARE in addition to all of the other programs that we have will hopefully change the trajectory of people who are living on the street,” Kelley said. “But unless we change the cost of housing, unemployment, people’s addictions as well… Unless we deal with the social part of this, this really in my opinion, as a social worker, isn’t going to move the needle. Not enough.”

CARE Court may have been the biggest law relating to homelessness and mental health passed last year, but as Gov. Gavin Newsom said at the bill signing, the real challenge will lie in its implementation.

“We get a moment in time, but this might live on, if we make it real,” he said. “And that’s the hard work of the next year.”

So now that we find ourselves in 2023, Gimme Shelter is dedicating this episode to breaking down the controversial law designed to address the needs of people with severe mental illness who often languish on the streets.

The CARE Act, which stands for Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment, sets up a new civil court in every California county where anyone from friends and family members to first responders will be able to petition that their loved one receive care for their untreated schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders.

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After a court-ordered clinical diagnosis to ensure they meet criteria, the patient will get legal counsel and a “supporter” — an advocate to walk them through the process, as well as a plan with recommended treatment, medication and housing. During the year-long process, a participant will have to attend hearings to make sure they’re adhering to the plan — and counties are providing the court-ordered services.

The bill was passed with overwhelming support from the Legislature, but not without heated controversies over forced treatment. In fact, civil rights groups on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the governor and his administration for violating “essential constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection” of people with disabilities.

Seven counties, including Orange, San Francisco and San Diego, volunteered to implement the program first, by the fall of 2023, with the rest of counties to follow in 2024. Los Angeles announced this month it would also launch the court system a year early, joining the first cohort.


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