Changes in Conservatorship Law to Help Alleviate SF & LA Homeless Problem?

The California Legislature is proposing new law to help San Francisco and Los Angeles address chronic homelessness.

SB-1045 would change CA’s conservatorship law to allow local officials to examine serious mental illness and substance use within their communities and use evidence of “frequent detention for evaluation and treatment pursuant to Section 5150” of the Welfare and Institutions Code to establish a conservatorship of the person.  Section 5150 allows police officers to detain a person deemed a threat to themselves or others, involuntarily and for up to 72 hours.  Under the new law it must also be shown the proposed conservatee was denied treatment, that his or her previous outpatient treatment was insufficient or that outpatient treatment would be insufficient to address the proposed conservatee’s serious mental illness and/or substance abuse problems.  SF Mayor-elect London Breed has characterizes this proposal as an “expansion” of the conservatorship laws needed for people “who clearly need help and clearly can’t make good decisions for themselves.”

At the same time though others are challenging California’s existing conservatorship system.  On August 16 a coalition of disability rights advocates issued a press release announcing a “first of its kind” lawsuit filed in Sacramento, CA against the California court system seeking to remedy what the group considers systemic discrimination in connection with involuntary conservatorships.  The issue as the coalition sees it is that despite having the right to do so, courts consistently fail to appoint legal counsel to assist people with mental and communication disabilities with their defense.

The SF Chronicle reports SB-1045 has already passed the full Senate and Assembly Judiciary Committee, and its prospects for passage apparently look promising.

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