Over the past few months, I have shared updates regarding the recent passage and signing of an important piece of legislation: CARE Court. In the midst of a mental health crisis that is gripping our country, state, and our city, this law is a breath of fresh air for the officials, advocates, and residents who have worked for long sought-after comprehensive solutions for one of our most vulnerable population groups. Specifically, this law will enable families, clinicians, first responders, and others to refer individuals suffering from schizophrenia spectrum or psychotic disorders to care teams and other supportive services. With CARE Court, we will finally be able to provide, and compel, individuals with mental health and substance abuse disorders with the care and services they need.
Seven counties will be a part of the first round of this law’s implementation in late 2023. I was determined that Riverside County be part of this first group of seven. After much advocacy from my office and work with our county partners, I am proud that Riverside County will be included in this group—along with San Diego, Orange, San Francisco and others.
This new law has been welcome news for many, but there are criticisms that deride legislation like this as being ‘coercive’ or that it forces people into untenable situations. While I understand these concerns, I do not believe they are properly aligned to the reality at hand. What is most inhumane is the humanitarian crisis on our streets where, because of these well-intended concerns, people are left to languish and die on our streets in the name of choice for one’s mental healthcare.
During the early stages of my efforts to advocate for the passing of mental healthcare bills, including CARE Court, to address the previously mentioned mental health crisis that is so acutely felt in our city, I had the pleasure of meeting other passionate advocates along the way. One of the advocates I had the opportunity to work with is Deborah Mickelson. Deborah is the founder of a nonprofit called Project Becky, named after Deborah’s sister, Becky, who unfortunately lost her battle with mental illness by way of suicide just days after Deborah and family were desperately trying to get the state to allow the family to require Becky receive mental health treatment. Due to the failed mental healthcare system in the state, Becky died in a tent living on the streets of Riverside, blocks away from her family’s home.
Understandably, Deborah was sad and angry because she wished so desperately to get her sister the help she needed—help that current laws prevented her from getting. While it was too late for Becky, Deborah resolved to turn that anger into action by helping change the system that failed her sister with the goal of bringing hope to other families.
Like Deborah, I believe that it is our duty not to allow for individuals like her sister Becky to languish because of a decades-long failed system. As Ms. Mickelson so aptly put it, “CARE Court is not about stripping liberties, it’s not about taking away fundamental freedoms, it’s about trying to help the most vulnerable that cannot help themselves.” And with the signing of CARE Court into law, help – and hope – is on the way for families like Deborah’s and for those suffering from mental illness on our streets.