Both critics are right: the CARE tribunal bill may wrap itself in the language of helping and empathy, but it’s essentially a way to force people who don’t have committed no crime or who prove to be an imminent threat to the public, to be forced into legal proceedings that will place many of them on powerful drugs under the threat of guardianship that would take away many of their freedoms. When people enter the system, they are awarded legal aid (earlier versions of the bill provided for a public defender). You don’t assign legal aid to people because they’re about to go into an all-voluntary system. You give them legal aid because they are about to enter a form of the legal system. Considering that the standard for being seized in CARE Tribunal is exhibiting symptoms of what Umberg called “schizophrenia-like” conditions, the subjectivity of these assessments and the potential for abuse are certainly there.
If California can’t handle the current number of mentally ill homeless people, what will it do when the 7,000 to 12,000 more predicted by Umberg arrive in the system? Umberg, for his part, acknowledges that finding these workers, whether psychiatrists or social workers, will be one of the biggest challenges facing CARE’s justice system. He says the governor is investing in training new workers, but given the current shortage of civic workers, especially when it comes to homeless services, it’s hard to imagine there will be enough professionals. trained to fill the role. The enduring conundrum of the state is that everyone wants to do something for the homeless as long as the person doing that work is someone else.
The other major challenge noted by Umberg was with the CARE Court housing plan for people entering the system. Much of the criticism of the bill, particularly from the ACLU, stems from the fact that there is no real guarantee that a CARE Court graduate will receive any form of housing. This is certainly puzzling given that part of the state’s rationale in creating the CARE courts is to rightly note that the stress of living on the streets contributes to mental illness and makes it harder for people to seek or maintain treatment. If the state cannot guarantee a homeless person with a mental disorder housing, how can it really compel that person to seek regular treatment or consult a counselor and the court, especially when the state agrees that homelessness itself is a major problem? responsible for the symptoms of mental illness?
That’s the question CARE Courts asked Californians: How fast and loose are you willing to play with the civil liberties of the chronically homeless and mentally ill? It’s true that homelessness is the state’s most pressing problem and most residents, myself included, are appalled daily by the seeming intractability of the problem.
The billions of dollars the state spends each year on homelessness solutions include significant investments in housing. But while Housing First policies can bring relief to many people who are on the verge of losing their homes or becoming homeless, it is not a panacea that will prevent people who are chronically homeless and with mental illnesses to get off the streets. (To be fair, no serious Housing First advocate would ever say that their approach will be able to solve all the problems.) That’s why the state’s political mood has shifted so quickly towards a type of desperation. that says something – anything – must be done.
This bluster and silly promises have in fact made it almost impossible to tell which proposals should be taken seriously and which should not, which are simply the thoughtful ideas of politicians under pressure and which are trying to solve a problem. Or if there is even really no difference between the two anymore.