TLDR: Newsom’s CARE Act (SB 1338) weaponizes care (read: conservatorship) against poor and Disabled people, doubles down on racist and classist systems at the expense of community-based treatment programs and real, affordable housing.
Newsom’s proposed “CARE Act” (SB 1338) is a cash grab for courts and cops – it represents continued investment into a violent system predicated on white supremacy and classism, giving the police state a shiny new toy that will be used to intimidate and incarcerate poor and Disabled Californians. Essentially, this legislation substantially expands ways that unhoused people with mental health disabilities can be brought into the system, from expanding parties who can petition to refer someone into the court, to creating a new protocol for mandating and overseeing forced treatment. There is nothing voluntary about CARE courts: at every stage that is allegedly “voluntary,” refusal to comply defaults to coercion, ultimately resulting in full-on conservatorship. This legislation does not invest a single dime in expanding or improving community based treatment options, and does not guarantee (nor fund) permanent supportive housing. Most egregiously, this policy continues a documented pattern of mental health laws being used as weapons to criminalize Black and Brown communities.
Less than two years ago, millions marched across the nation demanding care, not cops, so why are carceral policies like SB 1338 still dominating the legislature? Look no further than the policy’s most powerful advocates: Governor Newsom, the Collaborative Court Association, and the Big City Mayors, along with support from local law enforcement groups and business organizations, make up the stakeholder group for creating “CARE ” courts. Their political agenda has been well documented and on display daily, where they support and enforce traumatic street sweeps that shuffle people from one place to another. They’ve made it abundantly clear that they are concerned with the visibility of the people targeted by this legislation, and so the focus of this legislation is to make those people disappear, whether through forcibly institutionalizing them or by driving them away by using this new court system as a threat.
Hundreds of thousands of people call the streets of California home on any given night. But these aren’t the “stakeholders” that the Governor, or the Mayors for that matter, want to hear from, and as far as we know that Newsom has an established track record of manipulating and misleading marginalized community members into supporting harmful legislation. We demand that the Newsom administration do more than thinly veiled token engagement – listen to directly impacted people and the groups they’re organizing with in cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento. They do not support this harmful policy. House keys not handcuffs, we need care not courts!
Los Angeles – Services Not Sweeps & Los Angeles Community Action Network
In Los Angeles, Services Not Sweeps has seen LAPD continually target Unhoused residents in mental health crisis rather than care for them. Being that there’s a disproportionate percentage of Black Angelenos who are Unhoused relative to the number of residents here, CARE Court becomes a new mechanism to target and disappear them into mental health facilities. The County of LA does not have the resources to properly respond to mental health crises, so instituting CARE Court puts vulnerable and precarious lives into the hands of the LAPD, which has a brutal history of targeting and mishandling even simple calls for help in Unhoused communities.
For the Los Angeles Community Action Network: “In Los Angeles, we currently see a slew of increased carceral policies. That includes enhancement, dedicated enforcement of “No Sit, Law or Sleep,” daily property sweeps, and recession-proof budget allocations for sanitation and police. SB1388 is another carceral policy that allows interpretation up in the hands of too many untrained state actors—continuing to increase the cycle of homelessness and incarceration.
Sacramento – Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee
At Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, we have long advocated for dignity and self determination to be integral components of service delivery. Not simply because it’s the right thing to do but because voluntary services are evidenced based as having the most successful outcomes. Creating a new coercive court system instead of investing in voluntary services is a terrifying step for the most powerful people in the state to enact on the rest of us who struggle with mental stability. Court is not an historic mechanism of care, but rather of punishment. We need widespread and significant investment in community based healthcare and into the social determinants of health early in our lives. Housing, community, education, recreation, reducing the stress of poverty, these are the things people actually need and the state should move forward with immediately to alleviate mental health crisis in our state.
Oakland – Anti-Police Terror Project & Love and Justice in the Streets
During Mayor Libby Schaaf’s tenure, thousands of lifelong Oaklanders have lost their jobs, their homes, and their lives due to her administration’s failures. A 2019 Alameda County point-in-time count of Oakland’s unhoused population reported an eighty-six percent increase between 2015 and 2019, with nearly 79 percent of these individuals reported to be unhoused due to a lack of affordable housing options. The report estimated that 70 percent of Oakland’s unhoused population is Black, compared to 24 percent of the population. In 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur reported that attempts in Oakland to discourage residents from remaining in informal settlements or encampments by denying access to water, sanitation, health services, and other necessities constitute[d] cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of human rights. A audit of the Schaaf Administration’s interventions was released in 2021; it stated that the city’s efforts were “haphazard,” lacking strategy or policy direction. Oakland is a city in the midst of a housing crisis — we demand that the legislature reject SB 1338 and invest in immediately providing increased access to housing and services.
San Francisco – Coalition on Homelessness
The reality for individuals in mental health crisis living on the streets is miles away from the false narrative of treatment resistance behind the formation of a CARE court. In a recent survey of 600 unhoused people we conducted in San Francisco, we found that those who are experiencing mental health challenges wanted treatment but couldn’t obtain it because of barriers to getting care. For those who got treatment, it worked while they got it, but they then found themselves in a revolving door that spit them back to the streets. For people who don’t have the stability of a home, addressing mental health challenges is almost impossible. What no-one living this is asking for is a court process to navigate them into care. In fact, the current proposal from Newsom will mean far less funding for the things that work – treatment and housing but a whole lot of money going to courts, lawyers and judges. We don’t need courts to mandate people into a broken system. We need system fixes that result in diverse treatment and housing options that truly meet individuals needs.
Human Rights Watch
CARE Court promotes a system of involuntary, coerced treatment, enforced by an expanded judicial infrastructure, that will, in practice, simply remove unhoused people with perceived mental health conditions from the public eye without effectively addressing those mental health conditions and without meeting the urgent need for housing. Under international human rights standards, treatment should be based on the will and preferences of the person concerned. Housing or disability status does not rob a person of their legal capacity or right to personal autonomy. The expansive, involuntary CARE Court process denies these rights. We urge the legislature to reject this bill and instead to take a more holistic, rights-respecting approach to address the lack of resources for autonomy-affirming treatment options and affordable housing.
For More information or to join our campaign contact:
Western Regional Advocacy Project
2940 16TH STREET, SUITE 200-2, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94103
TEL: 415.621.2533 / EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org