Nobody likes to see homeless people on the streets, camping in our parks and on the beach, congregating at our transit facilities, or panhandling. Addressing the problems, and causes, of homelessness is challenging to say the least. Under current law a City like Del Mar cannot deny a person the right to sleep or camp on public property unless the City has enough shelter beds for these folks. Del Mar does not. Law enforcement, in most cases, cannot hold someone in custody who is unsheltered longer than 72 hours. What we see as a result is a revolving door of unsheltered folks picked up by law enforcement, released in 72 hours, with the cycle repeating over and over. I have seen reports of one person picked up and released more than 100 times in a single year! We need something better.
The governor is proposing a new program called Care Court that could be a game changer. Under this proposal, people on the street can be referred (by first responders, family members, and others) to a new division of the civil court system where they will receive a 90-day evaluation by trained mental health, social service, and housing experts under the supervision of a civil judge and court staff trained to provide needed assistance. Those referred to Care Court will be evaluated and receive the services they need, from housing assistance, to mental health counseling, social services, alcohol and drug treatment, and more.
The State is proposing to fund all aspects the program with the current state budget surplus to get it going, including funds for local governments and the courts to staff up for the new system. The state is also proposing to provide funding in the years to follow. If the Care Court does nothing more than divert the endless numbers of unsheltered currently showing up in our emergency rooms its cost savings will be substantial.
With Care Court for the first time we will have something to address homelessness in a compassionate way that gets at the heart of the problem. The Care Court will provide options other than leaving these folks on the street or repeated encounters with law enforcement. The Care Court will be an intermediary focused on assistance, counseling, and housing. For those who can’t be helped there will be pathways to traditional law enforcement or to conservatorship, but the focus will be on getting folks into constructive circumstances, off the streets, and back to being contributing members of society.
The reasons why people and families find themselves living on the street are myriad, including here in Del Mar. Will Care Court fix the problem 100%? Probably not, but it can make a real difference in getting the unsheltered off the streets, and doing so with compassion.
You can read about the Care Court Program here: www.gov.ca.gov/2022/04/07/governor-newsom-statement-on-introduction-of-care-court-legislation/