San Diego council members propose new efforts to force people into treatment

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Two members of the San Diego City Council are proposing a new unit of city attorneys that could place more homeless people in conservatorship or in mental illness or addiction treatment programs.

Council members Jennifer Campbell and Marni von Wilpert said Tuesday they would seek an additional $500,000 in the city’s 2022-23 fiscal year budget to fund the conservation and treatment unit, which would consist of two assistant city attorneys and a “person-centred treatment coordinator.

Campbell and von Wilpert said the unit was requested by City Attorney Mara Elliott as part of an extension of her office’s new Life-Saving Treatment Program, which was established a few years ago. . Von Wilpert said the city attorney’s office has already placed 11 people in custody and is working with 20 more.

Under guardianship, a judge appoints someone to oversee a person’s medications, financial decisions, and other activities.

The new unit would focus on people who are the most frequent users of the city’s emergency services, von Wilpert said.

As an example, Campbell said one of the 11 people already in custody made 500 contacts with emergency services in 12 months and was once found by a San Diego fire crew lying on tracks. of tram.

“It’s time for San Diego to stop walking beside these people who are hurting on our streets,” Campbell said. “We have to start giving them the help and hope they deserve.”

Von Wilpert said the new unit would help ease the burden on the city’s emergency response system.

“They’re calling 911 just to get food,” she said of the people who would be the focus of the new unit. “They call 911 just to get clothes or shelter, or they risk hurting themselves or others. These are people who cannot be helped by cycling through our emergency rooms. They actually need court-ordered intervention to get back on their feet.

Greg Anglea, CEO of homeless service provider Interfaith Community Services and a member of the regional homelessness task force, said he had not heard of the proposal, but was cautious about efforts to increase the number of people placed under guardianship.

Anglea said from his experience that guardianship was only necessary for a very small percentage of people on the streets.

Rather than mandatory guardianship, he said most people on the streets could be helped with services if they were adequate and accessible.

“We have an absolutely flawed behavioral health care system,” he said. “To prioritize guardianship is to look at the wrong side of the spectrum.”

The process for the new City Attorney’s Unit would begin with the treatment coordinator assessing the person’s background and deciding a course of action.

Von Wilpert said not every case will result in guardianship because the treatment coordinator can refer a person to other options such as outpatient treatment, a group home, the serial drunk program or a program. drug treatment to overcome addiction.

If guardianship is sought, Von Wilpert said the treatment coordinator would access a person’s status and determine whether the individual should be referred to the county or the city.

In serious cases, the county can ask a judge to appoint a public curator to oversee a person deemed critically ill. A person under public guardianship may be in a locked facility and may be required to take medication under a court order.

In less serious cases, the city can ask the probate court to appoint a public guardian to oversee the health, housing and welfare of people who cannot make decisions for themselves.

After the treatment coordinator assesses an individual, the unit’s two assistant attorneys coordinate with the city’s public guardian’s office or county public curator and file a petition with the appropriate court, according to a statement from Campbell’s office press.

In addition to referring people based on their number of contacts with emergency services, von Wilpert said homeless outreach teams can also refer people to the unit.

Governor Gavin Newsom in March proposed a new Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) court that could allow more people to receive compulsory treatment.

In making his proposal, Newsom said the new court was needed because the current system results in too few people being placed in conservatorship, leaving them on the streets and leaving loved ones frustrated and heartbroken.

Opponents of the proposed tribunal include ACLU California Action, Disability Rights California, Western Center on Law & Poverty and more than 30 other groups. Among the concerns raised by the groups was whether the court would speed up the guardianship of people with disabilities and protect their rights.

Von Wilpert said anyone facing a conservatorship hearing will receive free legal service through a public defender and hearings will be public.

Campbell and von Wilpert said the new city attorney’s unit would complement CARE’s court, which has yet to be approved.

“While waiting for that to happen, we in San Diego want to act,” von Wllpert said.

The city’s budget review process is set to begin Wednesday, and von Wilpert said they will seek a $500,000 revision to the budget presented in April to fund the new unit.

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