Gov. Newsom calls on lowering bar for mandatory mental health treatment

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Within Gov. Gavin Newsom’s goals to end homelessness in California is the suggestion that county conservatorship rules be relaxed so that some mentally ill homeless can get mandatory treatment. 

Newsom said the days of warehousing mental health patients for life in institutions is over. But the new realities of homelessness do not fit current legal guidelines for mandatory treatment at appropriate facilities.

The governor made his remarks Wednesday in his State of the State address before the Legislature. 

Newsom’s comments caused concern among homeless and mental health advocates.

John Kraintz, president of the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, acknowledged that often the mentally ill homeless who need treatment the most want it the least. Still, he was wary.

“When you take a person’s freedom away from someone that’s a very serious issue,” Kraintz said.

President and CEO of Mental Health America of California Heidi Strunk said she was grateful for the governor’s renewed commitment to improving mental health funding and programs to address the homeless issue. But she cautioned against drastic measures before alternatives are in place.

“We don’t need to take their civil rights away,” she said. “We don’t need to conserve them at this point, especially since we haven’t even provided the shelter and the services to allow them to choose that.”

Mayor Darrell Steinberg co-chairs the governor’s homelessness task force and is a champion of mental health programs. He said it is a delicate issue but it is the government’s role to ensure that people get the help they need.

“Living out on the streets for a long period of time is not a civil right and there are instances where the law as written is not working well,” Mayor Steinberg said.

Newsom said the conservatorship laws may have to be adjusted with personal freedoms and rights in mind.

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