LA County is on track to establish CARE Court this year
Los Angeles County is on track to join the first wave of counties this year and embark on a sweeping new plan, backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, to address serious mental illness through compelling treatment for people in to deal with a serious crisis.
The governor’s office announced Friday that Los Angeles County will start the new program called CARE Court (for Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment) by December 1, a year earlier than expected.
“CARE Court is bringing real progress and accountability at every level to fix the broken system that is failing too many Californians during the crisis,” Newsom said in a statement. “I commend Los Angeles County leaders, the courts and all local government partners and stakeholders across the state for taking urgent action to make this lifesaving initiative a reality for thousands of struggling Californians.”
However, one key question remained unanswered as of Friday afternoon: whether the Los Angeles County Board of Directors must vote on the plan for the county to join the program. A majority of maintainers – Hilda Solis, Janice Hahn, Kathryn Barger – have expressed their support in a public statement.
The Board of Supervisors oversees the county Department of Mental Health, which will be the administrator of the CARE Court program.
When signed into law, the CARE Act identified seven counties for initial induction on October 1: Glenn, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Stanislaus and Tuolumne. The rest of the state, including Los Angeles County, has until December 2024.
The inclusion of Los Angeles County, the state’s most populous county, in the first phase of the new program could have ramifications for Newsom’s ambitions to address one of California’s most vexing problems: the large number of people on the streets who are increasing with addiction and mental illness have fight .
According to some estimates, nearly 40% of people living on the streets suffer from a serious mental illness, a substance abuse disorder, or both. More specifically, UCLA’s California Policy Lab found that just over 4,500 people living on the borough’s streets have a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia, and that number includes only those who received outreach services.
Joining the first phase of the CARE Court is a measure of the urgency of California’s homeless crisis and comes with some risk. Difficulties in implementing the program in Los Angeles County could adversely affect the program and generate further criticism.
Supervisor Lindsey Horvath told The Times she was “concerned at the hasty decision to join the program,” which requires robust infrastructure and services to be successful.
“Without proper investment and clear direction, this system risks breaking the promises we made to LA County voters to make real, meaningful progress and change,” Horvath said.
Newsom’s announcement is the latest in a series of actions taken across the city and county of Los Angeles in recent weeks to address the mental illness and homelessness crisis that has plagued the city.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass declared a state of emergency in the city on her first day in office on December 12, and borough leaders followed almost a month later. The statements will help expedite services to the tens of thousands of homeless people in the region.
“I support bringing CARE Court to our county. It allows us to be on the ground floor of a new program with many processes and implementation details yet to be worked out,” Barger said in a statement. “Our district needs to be at the table so we can effectively heal people living on our streets with debilitating mental illness.
“We need a coordinated and consistent approach to helping these individuals and CARE Court stands ready to help us accomplish that mission. A serious mental illness does not go away on its own.”
When Newsom introduced the CARE Act in March, his proposal met with early opposition.
The legislation was intended to address the state’s homelessness crisis under the auspices of California Health and Human Services and be administered by county agencies. But requiring those agencies to deal with homelessness — with penalties if court-ordered housing isn’t provided — was a tough sell, Dr. Veronica Kelley, director of behavioral health services for Orange County.
This is how the CARE Act developed, and when the Act was signed in September, it focused not so much on homelessness as on helping people with schizophrenia and related disorders. Many behavioral health departments then decided it would be in their interest to be among the first circles to implement the program.
Reporter Rebecca Ellis contributed to this story.