“Antionette Dozier, a senior attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said people may decline diversion because of work or childcare issues, or because of concerns that such programs won’t be conducted in a culturally sensitive way.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
After issuing a letter in strong opposition, groups request specific answers for core components of proposal
Sacramento, CA – With Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposal for a so-called “CARE Court” set to be heard by the legislature this week, and after more than 40 advocacy groups including ACLU California Action, Disability Rights California, and Western Center on Law & Poverty submitted resounding opposition to its related bill, SB 1338 (Umberg & Eggman), advocates say fundamental questions remain unaddressed by the administration and bill authors.
The specific questions advocates have about the proposal include:
- How would the CARE Court respond to the crisis of insufficient housing and treatment availability for people who need either or both?
- How would the CARE Court avoid reinforcing systemic racial biases which result in disproportionate numbers of Black and brown people unhoused and under court supervision?
- How would the CARE Court achieve effective outcomes with coerced treatment where evidence has consistently supported adequately resourced voluntary treatment instead?
- How would the CARE Court avoid fast-tracking vulnerable people with disabilities to conservatorship and the diminution of their autonomy and legal rights?
The joint opposition letter sent to legislators this month unequivocally states that the framework of the proposal is entirely and irreparably flawed. Specifically, if these fundamental questions go unaddressed, the proposal is simply bill language without substance.
“Instead of creating a new court system to delegate medical care, California should guarantee housing for people who are unhoused and for those with severe mental health disabilities,” says Helen Tran, health attorney for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Forcing people into court-ordered treatment without guarantee of permanent housing will create a continuous cycle of court intervention when people find themselves back on the street due to California’s severe lack of affordable, permanent supportive housing. State funds should be directed toward the creation of housing and supportive services to help people maintain their housing and health care needs.”
The groups say the proposed CARE Court model will lead to unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities and unhoused people and will likely create a chilling effect that prevents people from seeking supportive services for fear of being institutionalized or otherwise having their rights stripped. The proposal also feeds into the false narrative that most unhoused people have a psychiatric disorder.
“CARE Court is a fast track to re-institutionalize Californians living with mental health disabilities,” says Kim Pederson, senior attorney at Disability Rights California. “The state should invest in evidence-based practices for voluntary engagement in community-based, trauma-informed, culturally-responsive mental health services. Instead, CARE Court creates a punitive system under which a person must comply with court orders or risk being conserved and institutionalized. True recovery and empowerment can only come from providing people with meaningful opportunities to make their own choices about the services that will work best for them.”
Additionally, by involving the legal system the proposal will perpetuate institutional racism and exacerbate existing disparities in health care delivery since Black, Indigenous and other people of color are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with psychotic disorders than white people, and because there is clear evidence that adequately resourced, intensive, voluntary outpatient treatment is more effective than court-ordered treatment.
“At a time when there is an unprecedented housing crisis that disproportionately impacts Black people and other people of color, many of whom have already been entangled in failed legal and other systems, this proposal if enacted would have disastrous consequences,” says Brandon Greene, director of the Racial and Economic Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California. “What we need is investment in holistic community driven systems not punitive ones that further alienate and ostracize.”
ACLU California Action is the statewide legislative policy arm of the ACLU affiliates in California. The ACLU works to protect civil liberties and civil rights and advance equity, justice, and freedom for all.
Disability Rights California (DRC) is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities.Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice.
California has had it with homelessness. Whether you believe it is far past time to address the housing shortage or just want to see people off the streets, there is a growing consensus that something must change. Governor Newsom and several members of the California Legislature want to address the crisis partially by way of a proposal called CARE Court. But is it the right approach?
The appalling growth of people experiencing homelessness is matched only by the complete inability of government, policymakers, or industry to fix it. As Winston Churchill once observed, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.” When it comes to solutions to the homelessness crisis, California has deployed many failed techniques, including poorly planned shelters and police harassment toward people on the street. One thing we know works — giving people enough money to afford rent, is repeatedly derided as “too expensive” (keep in mind, California is in its second year of much higher than anticipated budget surplus).
Solutions to homelessness are not as complex as we are often led to believe. We need to increase grants to adults who are disabled so they can afford rent, like what’s proposed in AB 1941 (Salas). We need to provide increased tax credits to families experiencing poverty, as proposed by AB 2589 (Santiago). We need to provide housing and support services to people coming out of incarceration, as proposed in AB 1816 (Bryan). And importantly, we need to provide permanent and ongoing rental assistance to low-income families and individuals so they can stay housed, as proposed by AB 2817 (Reyes). Those are the kind of policies that will make a visible difference on our streets and in people’s lives.
Governor Newsom’s new proposal is called “Care Court,” but it’s not about care, it’s about control – or at least the illusion of it. The proposal will make it easier for the state, cities, and counties to force people into treatment, and if they don’t go willingly, subject them to involuntary confinement. Here’s another way to think about it: the proposal presents a shiny new political solution that in practice blames and targets the victims of California’s economic, policy, and social failures without implementing proven solutions state resources should flow to – like permanent housing, support services, and more money for rent via programs like SSI, Guaranteed Income, and General Relief. Sure, those are expensive investments, but nowhere near the cost of the crisis playing out on California streets.
The legislative journey for the CARE Court proposal is about to start and it may very well pass through both houses, but in practice, it is likely to fail. Involuntary treatment does not work, especially without housing and services to follow it up. Western Center, ACLU California Action, Disability Rights California, and over 40 more organizations across California submitted an opposition letter to the legislative CARE Court proposal to highlight its fundamental flaws and to provide proven alternatives.
It’s not too late to do the right thing. California can provide large scale and ongoing rental assistance. Government can build thousands of units of affordable housing where the private market has failed. We can allow real rent control rather than the nod, nod, wink, wink version we have now. The one thing we can’t have is a system where the victims of policy incompetence are punished in such a potentially destructive way.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Chico, CA) Today, Judge Morrison England of the District Court in Sacramento approved the settlement reached between Plaintiffs, eight unhoused Chico residents, and the City of Chico in Warren, et al. v. City of Chico, et al.
Under the settlement, the City agrees to increase shelter options for homeless Chico residents by building the City’s first non-congregate shelter site at the former BMX location at 2352 Dr Martin Luther King Jr Pkwy. There will be 177 individual Pallet Shelters, each of which will have a locking door, electricity, heat, and air conditioning. The City will provide meals, showers, laundry, and other services at the shelter site. The City will also implement a number of other important changes in how it enforces its sleeping and camping ordinances to safeguard the constitutional rights of unhoused community members.
“As a woman living outside since losing my home over three years ago in the Camp Fire, I have not been able to sleep at night because I feared for my safety and because of the cold,” said Plaintiff Tona Peterson. “I and many others living outside will now have a private space with a locking door and heat. I’ll be able to get more things done each day and work with the on-site services. We all will.”
Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit on April 8, 2021 and Judge England enjoined the City from enforcing its sleeping and camping ordinances in the time since April 11, 2021. Judge England’s settlement order dissolves the preliminary injunction, but prevents any enforcement of the ordinances until the new shelter opens.
“This settlement includes common sense solutions that many unhoused and housed Chico community members have pushed for as the City’s affordable housing crisis has worsened, pushing more and more people outside” said Sarah Steinheimer with Legal Services of Northern California’s Sacramento office and lead counsel for Plaintiffs.
Once the shelter opens, the City may enforce its sleeping and camping ordinances but only when there is sufficient shelter for everyone sleeping on the designated public property where it plans to enforce its ordinances.
“Today’s settlement and order reaffirms the rights and dignity of Chico’s unhoused community members who are often targeted for just trying to survive outside, even though there is not sufficient available housing or even temporary shelter,” said Cory Turner of Legal Services of Northern California’s Chico office and counsel for the Plaintiffs.
The order signed by Judge England puts an end to the lawsuit, but the Court retains jurisdiction to enforce the settlement for five years.
Robert Newman with the Western Center on Law & Poverty and co-counsel for the Plaintiffs additionally observes, “Governor Newsom’s new budget proposes billions of additional dollars for people experiencing homelessness. The City of Chico should take advantage of that opportunity to provide desperately needed housing for its residents.”
“The dollar increase is significant for people who rely on this program, as is the increased ease of access,” said Richard Rothschild, director of litigation at the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “$500 can make a big difference for someone experiencing homelessness. It’s a stepping stone for finding housing, getting a job and becoming an integrated member of the community.”
“Courtney McKinney, director of communications at the nonprofit Western Center on Law and Poverty, says the U.S. should create a system that permanently limits the prevalence of evictions. The center is working on building state-based legal assistance funds, dubbed “homelessness prevention funds.” Across the country, just 10 percent of renters who go through an eviction process have legal representation, compared to 90 percent of landlords. ”
Western Center senior attorney, Lorraine Lopez, wrote an op-ed for the Daily Journal explaining why cruelty and blame toward people experiencing homelessness won’t solve the problem, and why California must look beyond traditional development to other models to make up for the severe shortfall of affordable housing.
“Now it’s time to look beyond traditional development — the foundation of which stems from white supremacist structures, to other housing models that make up for the severe shortfall of affordable housing.”
“The case stems from two ordinances adopted by the Chico City Council in December 2020, which permitted law enforcement to issue citations and arrest people for remaining in public spaces after dark. The plaintiffs and their attorneys at the Western Center on Law & Poverty responded months later with a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District of California.”
“Giving people access to safe and stable housing is the key to ending homelessness, said Nisha Vyas, a lecturer-in-law at UCLA and a senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, in an emailed statement.”