California legislators met with Gov. Gavin Newsom Wednesday to begin the implementation of the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Act, or the CARE Act.
The CARE Act will provide resources to individuals suffering from mental health or substance use disorders, according to a press release from Newsom’s office.
People facing crises will now be subject to a CARE plan for up to one to two years that aims to provide culturally appropriate and linguistically accessible medical and housing support, according to the California Health and Human Services Agency CARE Act FAQ sheet.
These services, according to an Aug. 31 press release from Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, will address an ongoing houselessness crisis in the state.
“Leaving health and housing decisions to those unable to act in their own self-interest hasn’t worked for those suffering from serious mental illness and addiction, nor has it worked for the families that love them,” Arreguín said in the press release. “It’s not humane, and the Governor’s thoughtful approach balances civil liberties with these painful realities.”
While Arreguín said the CARE Act will be a step in the right direction towards more advanced mental health legislation and programs statewide, eligibility is narrow, according to Jeffrey Buell, manager of mental health services for the city of Berkeley Health, Housing and Community Services Department.
Eligible individuals include those over the age of 18 who are suffering from a diagnosed but unstable mental disorder or substance use disorder and fit the state’s definition of being in desperate need of supervision or relapse prevention, according to the FAQ sheet.
“This law will have a very narrow scope of eligibility, so it will likely affect very few people,” Buell said in an email. “In all of Alameda County (~1.65 million people), an estimated 400-450 might be eligible.”
Buell added that while only certain people are eligible for support, those people will not be subject to legal repercussions if they choose not to accept the resources offered to them. Behavioral health jurisdictions will be penalized if they fail to provide the court-ordered care.
The first cohort of CARE Act counties include San Francisco, San Diego, Riverside, Orange, Glenn, Stanislaus and Tuolumne. These counties aim to have the CARE Act implemented by October 2023, according to Newsom’s office press release.
Berkeley and the rest of Alameda County will join the CARE Act with all remaining California counties in December 2024, Buell said in the email.
There will also be a working group created for the CARE Act beginning early next year that will incorporate disability rights organizations, behavioral health providers, racial equity advocates, housing stakeholders and other members of communities within California, the press release from Newsom’s office added.
“CARE … means new hope for thousands of Californians with untreated mental health and substance abuse issues,” Newsom said in the press release. “Today, our work begins to turn promise into practice.”