Sacramento, CA – Former United States Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and former Congressman Tony Coelho, co-authors of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), joined Disability Rights California and more than 500 individuals and organizations nationwide, urging the Governor to change course on the CARE Court proposal.
The letter calls on the Governor to implement policies that uphold the human rights to housing, healthcare, and equality by investing in infrastructure to house individuals who live on the streets and provide the comprehensive mental health services needed to achieve stabilization.
CARE Court is a coerced, court-ordered treatment system that strips people with mental health disabilities of their right to make their own decisions about their lives. That causes more harm as studies show that forced treatment lessens the likelihood that people will seek voluntary treatment in the future.
Senator Harkin remarked, “The disability movement has pushed for years to be at the table when policymakers try to help them, using the slogan ‘Nothing About Us Without Us.’ Governor Newsom and the State Legislature need to listen to the people who are the intended beneficiaries of this policy if they want the policy to work.”
Letter – dated August 11, 2022
The undersigned individuals and national organizations are collectively dedicated to promoting equity and justice for people with mental health disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other People of Color (BILPOC), and others who will be disparately impacted by your proposed Community Assistance Recovery and Empowerment (“CARE”) Court system. We all share the goal of a California, and an America, where no one has to face mental health issues while living without adequate housing. But CARE Court will not solve the complex issues of homelessness in California, nor will it meet the needs of unhoused people with mental health disabilities – primarily because the investment of funds is in a new court system. Evidence shows unhoused people with mental health disabilities need community-integrated, deeply affordable, accessible housing with voluntary services.
The CARE Court bill would create a new civil court system with mechanisms to force involuntary medical treatment and loss of autonomy and liberty in addition to the collective loss of other human and civil rights. Concerningly to us, because of California’s nationwide leadership role, a harmful policy like CARE Court is likely to be replicated across the country. As the Governor of California, with a highly visible national role, you have a moral imperative to lead in protecting and promoting human and civil rights. We call on you to stop promoting the CARE Court legislation and to redirect your energies toward creating the trauma-informed, evidence-based solutions of integrated housing and voluntary services at the scale needed to serve all of California’s residents.
In April of 2021, following the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, you stated that “We must continue the work of fighting systemic racism and excessive use of force.”1 Yet, we already know that because of systemic racism in the housing, economic, medical, and law enforcement systems, the use of CARE Court will disproportionately fall on BILPOC, and LGBTQ+ people with disabilities.2 CARE Court would pour millions of dollars into a new coercive civil court framework, while ignoring the State’s desperate needs for deeply affordable housing and supportive services. Further, it will only lead to institutionalization and criminalization of those already isolated in the streets and increase stigma, discrimination, and the likelihood of abuse and exacerbation of current abuse experienced by people with mental health disabilities. The Governor of California should not be in the business of systemically furthering the loss of bodily autonomy, when our own state history demonstrates that systems like these not only ultimately fail, but cause generational harms.3 Let your legacy as Governor be one that takes active pro-human rights, anti-racist steps to reduce state-imposed violence against unhoused BILPOC with disabilities, not one that further embeds and perpetuates racist and ableist structures.
We know that you recognize the need for leadership on bodily autonomy: just two months ago, you signed the Abortion Accessibility Act, with First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom emphasizing, “California will continue to lead by example and ensure all women and pregnant people have autonomy over their bodies and the ability to control their own destinies.”4 Just as we know that forcing pregnant people to carry fetuses to term has many harmful effects, evidence shows that involuntary, coercive treatment is not only ineffective, but harmful.5 We need you to again lead by example to protect the bodily autonomy of your unhoused residents with mental health disabilities, not create systems of oppression.
In the alternative, we strongly urge you to implement policies that uphold the human rights to housing, healthcare and equality by investing in a robust infrastructure to house individuals who live on the streets, and to provide the comprehensive mental health services needed to achieve stabilization. Community- and evidence-based practices show a combination of Housing First principles and robust treatment services are the answer to ending homelessness and promote equitable outcomes. With investment in permanent, affordable, and accessible housing alongside voluntary treatment, you can help California lead our nation’s efforts to achieving and maintaining dignity, liberty, and integrated communities for people with disabilities.
ACLU California Action
Affordable Housing Advocates, San Diego
Bay Area Legal Aid
Black Men Speak, Inc.
California Association of Mental Health Peer-Run Organizations
California Black Health Network
California Foundation for Independent Living Centers
California Institute of Behavioral Health Solutions
California Homeless Union Statewide Organizing Council
California Pan-Ethnic Health Network
Calloway Holistic Peer Concepts
Centro Legal de la Raza
Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance (MoGo)
Community Legal Aid SoCal
Coalition on Homelessness
Corporation for Supportive Housing
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance – California
Disability Rights California
Elder Law and Disability Rights Center
Escuchen mi voz
Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, Oakland
Housing is a Human Right, Orange County
Immigrant Defense Advocates
Justice2Jobs Coalition Sacramento
Law Foundation of Silicon Valley
Law Office of Robert Rootenberg
Mental Health Advocacy Services
Mental Health America of California
Mental Health Association of San Francisco
National Association of Social Workers (NASW) California Chapter
National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter
North Valley Radical Mental Health
People’s Homeless Task Force, Orange County
Public Interest Law Project
Racial and Ethnic Mental Health Disparities Coalition
Sacramento Homeless Union
Sacramento Loaves & Fishes
Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness
Safe Black Space
Salinas/Monterey County Homeless Union
San Diego Tenants Union
San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project
San Francisco Public Defender’s Office
Stanford Sierra Youth & Families
Starting Over, Inc.
Venice Justice Committee
We Are Not Invisible
Western Center on Law and Poverty
See link for full list of signatories.