Treating the Homeless, Vigorously

Compassion, common sense, and public safety dictate we need to be much more vigorous in our treatment of the severely mentally ill homeless—many of whom live in the Parkway, some for many years—to the point of forcing them into treatment.

The contrary opinion has driven the issue for decades, but there appears to be a ray of hope that compassion, common sense, and public safety may prevail, though this article from Sacramento News & Review explains the problems.

An excerpt.

“In his call to action on the state’s homelessness crisis, Gov. Gavin Newsom zeroed in on the need to treat serious mental illnesses and substance-use disorders among people who are chronically homeless.

“About a third of homeless people have serious mental illness, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center. Even by conservative estimates, that encompasses tens of thousands of Californians. Many of them end up cycling in and out of emergency rooms and jails; close to one third of inmates in California’s jails have a documented mental illness.

“In his annual State of the State address on Feb. 19, here’s what the governor proposed to deal with people who have fallen through holes in the safety net:

“Force more people into treatment

“Newsom, in calling for changes to the state’s involuntary treatment laws, described the importance of people “being capable of accepting help, to get off the streets and into treatment in the first place.”

“Some, tragically, are not,” he said.

“But changing the law—especially the definition of “grave disability”—is highly controversial, and has been for a long time.

“The Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which passed in 1967, imposed specific time frames on involuntary confinement and limited involuntary holds to those deemed a danger to themselves or others, or gravely disabled.

“Families say the law can prevent them from helping loved ones who don’t recognize that they are ill and need treatment. Disability rights advocates worry that compelling treatment is ineffective and can violate people’s civil rights.

“In recent years, several bills that have attempted to alter the law have failed. That may change with an audit of Lanterman-Petris-Short, which State Auditor Elaine Howle is expected to release in March, along with specific recommendations.

“A pilot project to expand conservatorships without altering Lanterman-Petris-Short is underway in San Francisco, and Newsom said in his speech that he wants to see that pilot expand statewide.

“He also mentioned changing the conditions imposed on counties to make it easier for them to implement Laura’s Law. Currently, some counties haven’t adopted the law because doing so requires them to provide an array of intensive services. The law, which passed in 2002, was named for Laura Wilcox, a college student who was shot and killed by a man who had refused psychiatric treatment. Counties that adopt the law can compel people to accept community-based outpatient treatment through the court system.

“Change how mental health money gets spent

“Another proposal that’s already proving contentious is the call to expand the kinds of services that can be funded through Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act.

“When voters passed the act in November 2004, they imposed an additional 1% income tax on millionaires in the state. That money was intended to expand county mental health offerings.

“Since then, the Mental Health Services Act has brought billions of dollars into a long under-resourced system. But some critics have been frustrated to see the money sometimes fund programs like horse therapy for troubled teens while the seriously mentally ill go without other important treatments. Others have pointed out, as Newsom did in his remarks, that many counties have not spent all their funds—sometimes sitting on huge reserves.

“A state audit in 2018 found that counties and mental health agencies had accumulated hundreds of millions in unspent Mental Health Services Act funds, and required stronger state direction and oversight. Newsom underscored his frustration in his address, criticizing counties for currently having more than $160 million in unspent funds.

“But loosening the restrictions on what the funding pays for has some county mental health directors nervous, because they don’t want to see dollars diverted away from mental health services.

“The California Behavioral Health Directors Association released a statement applauding much of Newsom’s speech, but emphasizing that the state should “consider the need for additional investments, rather than shifts” in what the Mental Health Services Act funds.”

Retrieved March 5, 2020 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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