From Disability Visibility Project: “On October 1, over the vehement objections of disabled activists, housing justice activists, and human rights organizations, the Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act went into effect in seven California counties. The law empowers family members, social service providers, police, and first responders to refer primarily unhoused people diagnosed with schizophrenia or other severe mental illnesses to a regime of civil courts that would compel them to accept a ‘care plan’ handed down by a judge. In theory, people are allowed to refuse the care plan, but non-compliance could potentially initiate institutionalization or even conservatorship proceedings.
. . . The CARE Act is predicated on a big lie perpetrated by policymakers and marketed to the public: that houselessness is caused by ‘severe and untreated’ mental illness and substance use. In a recent large-scale survey of unhoused Californians conducted by the University of California San Francisco, respondents reported high rents as the primary reason they became unhoused. They said that rent subsidies or one-time cash assistance would have kept them in their homes.
Despite its bluster as a houselessness fix, CARE Court doesn’t guarantee housing. ‘The promise of CARE Court is that you’ll get a housing plan,’ mental health activist Keris Jän Myrick told Disability Visibility Project. ‘I’ve asked, “How do people live in a plan? A plan is a piece of paper. I can’t live under a piece of paper.”’
Disability Rights California and allied civil rights groups fought to halt the law earlier this year, but their challenge was struck down by California’s Supreme Court. Los Angeles County will roll out CARE Court on December 1, and it will be required in all California counties by December 2024.
CARE Court is just the first in a series of measures backed by Governor Newsom that use the rhetoric of ‘modernization’ to chip away at hard-won rights emerging from deinstitutionalization in the 1960s and 1970s. Prior to 1967, psychiatrically, intellectually, and developmentally disabled Californians lacked legal protections against involuntary confinement in institutions. That changed with the passage of the Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act, designed to ‘end the inappropriate, indefinite, and involuntary commitment of persons with mental health disorders.’ LPS also established some of the first due process rights for people facing involuntary psychiatric commitments.
Under LPS, people could not be forcibly institutionalized or placed under a conservatorship unless they were found to be a ‘danger to themselves or others,’ or ‘gravely disabled—’ defined as unable to provide for food, clothing, or shelter as a result of psychiatric disability. As flawed as the LPS protections are, they are some of the only safeguards on bodily autonomy that mad, mentally ill, and disabled Californians have had access to, and they are currently under attack.”
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