California governor’s mental health plan progresses amid worries

California Gov. Newsham’s controversial proposal to encourage more homeless people to seek mental health treatment is making its way through the legislature, despite deep concerns from lawmakers struggling to solve a problem that reaches every corner of the state.

Lawmakers are worried that there are not enough guaranteed staff or housing to make the program a success, while forcing vulnerable people to use court-ordered services against their will. However, the bill unanimously elected the Senate last month and was dropped by the Assembly’s Judicial Committee on Tuesday, one of several suspensions before being voted on by the full house.

But the proposal also received its first vote against, and members disappointed with the status quo stressed the importance of all parts – housing, services, trained staff, heartfelt support – in place for the program to work.

“I know we all agree that the current system is broken and failing. You can go out of this building and walk a few blocks … and see these failures every day, “said MP Matt Haney, a Democrat who lives in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, where people are openly drugged and homeless. mental health. damage is a common sight.

“We desperately need a paradigm shift,” he said.

Newsham, a Democrat and former mayor of San Francisco, has made homelessness a priority for his administration, spending billions of dollars to turn motels into homes and clear camps. He proposed spending $ 2 billion this year to create more medical beds, and in March proposed setting up special mental health courts in each county to link homeless services to schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders.

Nearly a quarter of California’s approximately 161,000 homeless people have severe mental illness. They play pinball in prisons, emergency departments, temporary psychiatric arrests and the streets until they are arrested for a minor crime and brought before a judge who can order a long-term treatment plan.

Newsham said his proposal allows family members, emergency dispatchers and others to refer the person for help, preferably before the person commits a crime. He said it was not compassionate to allow people in need to get worse on the streets. The goal is for the person to accept services voluntarily and participate in their treatment, he said.

But legislation can lead to involuntary treatment, which worries defenders of civil liberties. It does not guarantee housing or provide special funding and comes at a time when psychologists and other behavioral health professionals are in high demand. Critics of the legislation also say that involuntary treatment will not be successful.

In no case should there be a forced situation in which you stick needles in people or force them to take medication, this is where you get into people who are outraged and sorry, and they go down a spiral of self-medication or whatever. to be otherwise. a number of issues, “said Eric Harris, director of public policy at Disability Rights California, who opposes the bill.

Assembly member Ash Calra, a San Jose Democrat, voted against the proposal on Tuesday, agreeing with critics who say judicial courts are a scary place for homeless people and that more money should go to organizations that are already doing the hard work. intense and slow. work to persuade people to accept services.

Legislative analysis submitted to the Judicial Commission has raised serious concerns about the proposal.

He strongly advised people not to be placed in the court program until housing and services are guaranteed, and counties not to implement the program until the infrastructure is in place. Counties should not be sanctioned or fined by the state until they have the resources, and funding for community-based voluntary programs should not be reduced to support the new program, according to the analysis.

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