Will ‘CARE Court’ Help People Dealing with Mental Illness and Homelessness?

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A blue tent has been set up along the wall of a building on a rainy sidewalk on a busy city street. The parking spaces nearest the tent are filled with trash – plastic bags, open takeout containers full of food, a paper cup – and additional trash is piled at the base of a tree next to the tent. In the background, a person in a green jacket walks away down the street.
An encampment of unhoused people on the streets of the Tenderloin in San Francisco on Oct. 30, 2021. The Biden administration has announced a new federal initiative to combat homelessness. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

California’s mental health care system is a mess. And at the same time, unsheltered homelessness is increasing and voters want their leaders to do something about it.

Those are some of the reasons why Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a proposal called the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Court — or CARE Court. The idea is to provide a coordinated mental health treatment plan for a patient, under the supervision of a judge.

But there’s also a catch: if the patient refuses that treatment, that could also be used as grounds for conservatorship, where the judge appoints someone to manage a patient’s care and finances. That has created big concerns among civil liberties and mental health advocates, who worry that this new court system could cause even more problems in a system rife with racial disparities.

Guest: Erin Baldassari, KQED housing affordability reporter

Episode Transcript