Homeless/Vagrancy Game-Changer: Sac'to Bill -- Urged By Dr. Drew Pinsky, Authored By OC Repub State Senator John Moorlach -- Would Let Local Health Depts Treat Very Severely Mentally Ill Vagrants Involuntarily; City of Santa Monica + CA DA's + CA Police Chiefs Support; ACLU Opposes; Committee Dems Blocked It But Allow Changes; LB Mayor/Council Mum Thus Far
|(August 26, 2019, 7:55 a.m.) -- A Sacramento bill, suggested by KABC Radio's Dr. Drew Pinsky and introduced by state Senator John Moorlach (R, Irvine/Costa Mesa/Huntington Beach), proposes to enable a meaningful response -- instead of the current non-response -- to persons suffering from severe mental illness among CA's homeless populations.
SB 640 would amend state law that already permits the involuntarily treatment of individuals who are "gravely disabled" to also include [legislative counsel's digest] "a condition in which a person, as a result of a mental health disorder, is incapable of making informed decisions about, or providing for, the person's own basic personal needs for food, clothing, shelter, or medical care or shelter without significant supervision and assistance from another person and, as a result of being incapable of making these informed decisions, the person is at risk of substantial bodily harm, dangerous worsening of a concomitant serious physical illness, significant psychiatric deterioration, or mismanagement of the personís essential needs that could result in bodily harm."
That approach could be a game-changer for seriously ill individuals now basically left on the street who need and deserve help, as well as residents and businesses who feel for them but also want and deserve relief.
SB 640 gained early support from the CA District Attorneys Association, the CA Police Chiefs Association, the City of Santa Monica, and NAMI Sacramento but drew opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, CA Hospital Association (unless amended), Disability Rights California, Mental Health America of Northern CA, SEIU California and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
At an April 8, 2019 hearing in the state Senate Health Committee, Sen. Moorlach explained his basis for reforming current state law; he brought witnesses offering compelling testimony in support of SB 640; Committee Dems politely thanked Sen. Moorlach and his witnesses for raising the issue but raised various objections to it in its initially offered form. Several indicated they'd vote "no" on it (blocking it), leading Sen. Moorlach to offer to make SB 640 a "two year bill" that he could try to amend to address objections they raised. To see/hear in detail what was said and what took place, see VIDEO below:
The Committee withheld a vote on SB 640. It remains in the state Senate Health Committee but with an uncertain future. If/when it returns with offered amendments, one of the state Senate Health Committee members who may hear it and vote on it is former LB Councilwoman/now state Senator Lena Gonzalez (D, LB/SE L.A. County).
[Scroll down for further.]
|Although the politically-progressive homeless-impacted City of Santa Monica supported SB 640 (introduced in February), the City of Long Beach took no position on it. The LB City Council's "State Legislation Committee" (Austin, Richardson and [now-exited] Gonzalez) didn't discuss it (or hold any Committee meetings on any advancing state legislation in 2019.)
Dr. Pinsky summarized his stance on SB 640 in an April Sacramento Bee op-ed he titled "Housing Alone Won't Solve Homelessness; Let's Rethink How We Treat Mentally Ill" at this link.
A state Senate Health Committee Legislative Analysis provided details of SB 640 here:
...According to the author, California is failing its seriously mentally ill. Current law states that a person is gravely disabled if, as a result of a mental health disorder, he or she cannot provide for their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. This law was intended to serve as a protection to individual liberties but has created a system that, instead of helping the most seriously mentally ill, relegates them to the streets, jails, and emergency rooms. Better metrics are needed to help seriously mentally ill individuals that are simply powerless to provide for their own personal well-being. This is especially important when the absence of significant supervision and assistance leaves the individual at risk of substantial bodily harm. Clarifying the definition of "gravely disabled" will be a step towards repairing a system that is failing to serve those who need it most.
The Committee legislative analysis summarized positions on the bill pro and con as follows:
Support. The City of Santa Monica states that although the current definition of gravely disabled was intended to protect individuals from inappropriate, indefinite, and unnecessary involuntary commitments, it has created a system that often relegates those who are gravely disabled to the streets, jails, and emergency rooms, and has failed to deliver care that is desperately needed. The City of Santa Monica argues that this bill would clarify gravely disabled to more closely align with the original intent of the LPS Act and to provide care that the current system has failed to deliver.
In L.A. County's second largest city, Long Beach Mayor Garcia (who doesn't set city policy) has acknowledged homelessness is complex with multiple aspects but has tried to steer discussion mainly toward building more housing units (including below market/subsidized "affordable" housing.) In 2018, Mayor Garcia chose an "Everyone Home Task Force" that included a number of "affordable housing" developers and homeless service providers. It produced a Dec. 2018 report contending LB (parts of which are already densely populated) needs thousands of new housing units. On a separate track, Councilman Rex Richardson has been soliciting contributions (as of June 30 over $200,000) from affordable housing developers and homeless service providers for a future revenue-raising (read: tax imposing) LB ballot measure (LBREPORT.com coverage here.)
The Garcia-chosen Task Force acknowledged that a 2017 Long Beach homeless count found roughly a third (31%) reported a mental illness and 21% report a substance use disorder but its recommendations focused on housing, offering mainly conventional bureaucratic responses regarding mental illness issues. Under the heading "Increase access to Behavioral Health and Physical Health Services" the Garcia Task Force wrote:
Improving access to services is an important step to accessing housing and helping people maintain their housing once housed. In addition, our hospitals are impacted by those experiencing homelessness who have physical and behavioral health conditions. With state legislation in place that precludes discharging a person into homelessness, there is a tremendous need to increase collaboration among hospitals and community partners to access shelter and housing, as well as to increase the number of, and access to, recuperative care beds and sobering center opportunities in the City.
The Garcia Task Force recommended an agreement with LA County's Housing for Health program for "a coordinated referral program to serve the City's most vulnerable and most frequent users of City resources"; "partnering" with LA County and the State "to implement a substance use detox center, sobering center, and increased recuperative care beds and work to implement a safe needle exchange program; substance use treatment opportunities."
It also advised a "significantly increase [in] long-term mental healthcare capacity" and "to reform the conservatorship rules and processes to make it easier to get people the care they need and maintain it as long as the level is appropriate."
But that's already in the works. SB 1045, enacted in 2018 and co-authored by state Senator Scott Wiener, established a five-year pilot project in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego Counties for "a conservatorship process for individuals incapable of caring for their own health and well-being due to a serious mental illness and substance use disorder as evidenced by 'frequent detention' for evaluation and treatment under 72-hour involuntary holds."
SB 640 proposes to go where some in LB City Hall and Sacramento haven't gone...thus far. Developing.
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