A mental health court program designed to fast-track people with untreated schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders into housing and medical care — potentially without their consent — started in seven California counties, including San Francisco, on Monday. Gov. Gavin Newsom created the new civil court process, called “CARE Court,” as part of a massive push to address the homelessness crisis in California. Lawmakers approved it despite misgivings over insufficient housing and services, saying they needed to try something new to help those suffering in public from apparent psychotic breaks. Families of people diagnosed with severe mental illness rejoiced because the law allows them to petition the court for treatment for their loved ones. Residents dismayed by the 71,000 homeless people in California cheered at the possibility of getting them help and off the streets, reports the Associated Press.
It’s not clear who the program might help nor how effective it will be. That’s because the eligibility criteria is narrow and limited largely to people with untreated schizophrenia and related problems. Severe depression, bipolar disorder and addiction by itself do not qualify. “It’s hopefully going to help some people who need some help, and it is probably not going to make a huge dent in what you observe in the community,” said San Francisco Superior Court Judge Michael Begert, who will supervise the court. Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said the program is aimed at catching people before their condition worsens. Family members and first responders are among those who can now file a petition on behalf of an adult they believe “is unlikely to survive safely” without supervision and whose condition is rapidly deteriorating. They also can file if an adult needs services and support to prevent relapse or deterioration that would likely result in “grave disability or serious harm” to themselves or others.