Los Angeles County has recently inaugurated the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court, a pioneering initiative targeting the escalating crisis of homelessness and mental illness. This state-sanctioned program, which is operational as of this Friday, empowers individuals, including family members, first responders, and healthcare professionals, to seek court-mandated treatment and housing for those grappling with severe mental illnesses, notably schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders. This move places LA County alongside seven other California counties already implementing the CARE Act program.

CARE Court’s introduction marks a significant stride forward, arriving a year earlier than originally planned. County officials are hailing it as an instrumental mechanism in addressing the challenges faced by individuals with severe mental health conditions, particularly those without shelter. Supervisor Janice Hahn highlighted the plight of families struggling to secure aid for loved ones with severe mental illnesses and underscored the prevalence of schizophrenia among the homeless. She lauded CARE Court as a long-needed solution in LA County, offering support for both those suffering and their families, who have historically had limited options.

Under the CARE Court framework, which received state legislature approval last year, individuals eligible for intervention must be at least 18 years old, diagnosed with schizophrenia or similar disorders, not stabilized in ongoing treatment, and in a state of substantial mental health deterioration. The program is designed to provide comprehensive support, including mental health care and housing, for up to two years, with periodic reviews to monitor progress.

A key aspect of CARE Court is its voluntary nature. Participants are offered legal representation and are free to opt out of services, including medication, without any civil or criminal repercussions. This voluntary approach, however, has drawn some criticism, particularly concerning the potential for involuntary conservatorships for those who either refuse or fail to engage successfully in the program. Proponents, however, argue that CARE Court offers a critical lifeline, preventing individuals from further descending into mental illness and the dangers of street life.

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The program’s transparency and accessibility are bolstered by a newly launched website by the Los Angeles Superior Court. This online resource provides comprehensive information about CARE Court, including eligibility criteria and the petition process, aiming to make the system navigable for those seeking help for themselves or others.

Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Samantha P. Jessner praised the collaborative effort that enabled the early launch of CARE Court. She emphasized the court’s role in maximizing judicial expertise to support individuals with mental health disorders and fostering an environment where they can thrive and lead stable lives. Initially, CARE Court proceedings will take place at the Norwalk Courthouse, with plans to move to a more central location in the future, further enhancing the program’s accessibility and impact in addressing mental health and homelessness crises in LA County.