Senate Passes Conservatorship Bill to Help Chronically Homeless with Severe Mental Health & Substance Abuse Issues

Bill by Senator Stern would allow participating counties to create new form of conservatorship for those who cannot care from themselves

May 31, 2018

SACRAMENTO Yesterday afternoon, the California State Senate voted unanimously to pass SB 1045​, a bill authored by State Senator Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) to help local governments reduce chronic homelessness and address threats to public safety by expanding and strengthening California conservatorship laws.  

Jointly authored by State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the bill once enacted will establish a five-year pilot program that gives Los Angeles and San Francisco counties the option to create a new kind of conservatorship focused on chronically homeless individuals who suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues, and who cannot care for themselves.

Senator Stern said, “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.”

The bill proposes a five-year pilot program, voluntary on the part of the counties involved, to provide housing with wraparound services for the most vulnerable Californians living on the streets of our most populous urban counties. Under the current version of the bill only counties specifically identified may opt in. However Ventura is one of several other counties currently experiencing homelessness epidemics that have expressed interest and support for an SB 1045-type enhanced conservatorship.

In order for an individual to be considered for the program, they would have to be chronically homeless with co-morbid mental illness and substance abuse disorder severe enough to have resulted in them frequently being seen in the emergency room, detained under 5150 holds or held for psychiatric evaluation and treatment.

Sheriffs, county mental health and social services departments and health care and service providers can recommend to the county that a person be conserved. If the county officer investigating conservatorship agrees with that recommendation, a judge will consider the case of the person to be conserved and only order conservatorship if there are no viable alternatives and for individuals for which;

  1. The petition was denied or the assisted outpatient treatment was insufficient to treat the person’s mental illness.
  1. Assisted outpatient treatment would be insufficient to treat the person in the instant matter in lieu of a conservatorship.​

The bill also requires San Francisco and Los Angeles Counties to form working groups to assess the effectiveness of this new conservatorship, including collecting data that would be used to determine the effectiveness of the 5-year pilot program.  Its next stop is the State Assembly where it will be heard in policy committees next month.

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Henry Stern is Chair of the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, and the first millennial elected to the Senate. Senator Stern also serves on Energy, Utilities and Communications, Environmental Quality, Judiciary, and Natural Resources and Water. He represents nearly 1 million residents of the 27th District living in east Ventura County and northwest Los Angeles County. http://sd27.senate.ca.gov.