As homeless crisis grows, new law offers forced treatment for mental health, addiction

Carlos Granda Image
Wednesday, November 27, 2019
Should the homeless be forced into mental health programs?
A new law seeks to address the homeless crisis by forcing some of the homeless into treatment programs for mental health and addiction issues.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As the homeless crisis grows and we hear of the number of homeless who suffer from mental health and alcohol and drug issues, some people in the community often pose the same suggestion.

"I believe that we should have mandatory rehab."

That was from a recent community meeting

There is a law, SB1045, that was passed by the Legislature last year that would create a conservatorship for people with severe mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Simply put, with court approval, they could take guardianship over people and put them into treatment. Los Angeles County is looking at this right now.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger says "The department is putting together the proposal right now but conservatorships are going to be an important component to those that are on the street that are chronically homeless and mentally ill."

It's a controversial issue but in the last few months San Francisco passed an ordinance to be able to implement it there.

The author of SB1045, state Sen. Scott Weiner from San Francisco says: "The current conservatorship laws in California are not meeting the needs particularly of people with severe drug addiction."

Even though the local approval passed in San Francisco months ago so far not a single person in that city has been sent to treatment.

Barger says "A conservatorship goes through the courts so it's going to have to pass legal muster and I'm sure it's not for everybody but there are individuals that this criteria is set up for."

On Skid Row homeless people we spoke with are split on the idea.

"A lot of people like living in fantasies they don't really want to change," says Mary Jacobs. She is homeless and bipolar and thinks conservatorship is a bad idea.

We asked her "Do you think it's against your civil rights to be forced into treatment?"

"Yes," she responded, "And I think it's also against your civil rights to be forced to be sleeping in the streets."

Wanda Hudson says she has a friend who won't get treatment.

"But she needs help. It's a mental thing. I think it's best for them to get help."

Even if they don't want to go?

"Even if they don't want to go," says Hudson.

The ACLU of Southern California opposes the plan, saying "...forcing people experiencing homelessness into our broken mental health treatment system will not solve the homelessness crisis. It does nothing to improve the quality of community-based mental health services."

Rev. Andy Bales who runs the Union Rescue Mission says he's in favor of the idea and officials should move quickly.

Bales says "The concern I have about SB1045 is it looks like they have to have everything in place. They have to have the beds, they have to have the wraparound services, then they have to have the conservators lined up before they can ever be able to launch it. That's going to take years and we're going to lose people."