Senators Stern and Wiener Announce Bill to Expand Conservatorships to Help Mentally Ill and Drug-Addicted People Off of California’s Streets and Into Care

Bill expands conservatorship law to allow counties broader reach and more flexibility to help the most vulnerable individuals suffering from chronic homelessness, severe mental illness, and drug addiction.

February 1, 2018

Sacramento –  Today, Senators Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) announced a bill to expand conservatorships for California’s most vulnerable residents who cannot care for themselves and who are dying on our streets.

The California conservatorship system is one of the most important safeguards for protecting individuals incapable of managing their own affairs. Currently two kinds of conservatorship are authorized in California: Lanterman-Petrie-Short (LPS) conservatorships are designated for individuals who are “gravely disabled” and thus unable to care for themselves, while probate conservatorships are designed for individuals unable to care for themselves due to physical health issues, cognitive impairment, or elder abuse.

The LA County Board of Supervisors is currently evaluating the efficacy and reach of their conservatorship system pursuant to a motion coauthored last year by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Kathryn Barger.

The bill would allow local governments more flexibility in expanding the reach the conservatorship system, modernizing its administration, and assisting individuals who suffer from chronic homelessness, accompanied by debilitating mental illness, severe drug addiction, repeated psychiatric commitments, or excessively frequent use of emergency medical services.
According to Senator Stern: “Currently, local governments’ hands are tied by an old model of conservatorship that has not been updated to address the crisis on our streets.  People are dying who do not know how to help themselves, and our communities suffer with them.  It is our job in Sacramento to enable the innovation already underway at the local level to modernize our antiquated and inhumane conservatorship system.”

According to Senator Wiener: “California is in the midst of a crisis, with very sick people suffering and dying on our streets. This is a life-or-death situation, and it is beyond inhumane to sit back and watch as these people die. We must take action, and action means helping people get off the streets, into housing, and into supportive services to get their lives back. The current conservatorship law is inadequate to meet our counties’ needs around chronic homeless people with severe mental illness or drug addiction. Our counties need more tools to help those who can no longer help themselves and to get these individuals housed and into life-saving services. Over the coming months, we will work closely with counties, cities, advocates, and others to craft a bold and comprehensive bill that will save lives.”

California faces an unprecedented housing affordability crisis, accompanied by significant untreated mental illness and drug addiction. These conditions, coupled with the limitations of our state and local social services, have left some counties searching for more tools to provide help and support to those Californians in the most need. In cities large and small across the state, many of the successful programs and services have still fallen short of providing meaningful rehabilitation to a small population of residents with severe mental illness and drug addiction, who are deteriorating on the city’s streets.

Many of these people routinely use social and emergency services and find themselves in law enforcement custody, effectively converting a health issue into a criminal issue. By allowing greater flexibility to conserve these extremely disabled individuals - who are unable to make decisions for themselves - we can keep people out of the criminal justice system and focus on their health and well-being.

The bill will be introduced as intent language, so that Senators Wiener and Stern can work with local governments, service providers, and advocates over the coming months to determine how to ensure the conservatorships are structured to best help those most in need of shelter and recovery, should those counties elect to use it. No county will be required to use the new conservatorship.

The intent language introduced will read as follows:

“It is the intent of the Legislature to expand conservatorships to better meet the needs of the most vulnerable individuals who suffer from chronic homelessness accompanied by severe mental illness, drug addiction, repeated commitments, or exceptionally frequent use of emergency medical services.

Furthermore, it is the intent of the Legislature to maintain the many checks and balances necessary to protect individuals with mental illness from being incorrectly or unnecessarily placed on conservatorship, while facilitating their path to permanent housing and necessary supportive services.”

###