Noting that nearly one-third of homeless people in the county suffer from mental illness or substance abuse, two Los Angeles city councilmen called Wednesday for an expansion of court-ordered conservatorships to cover more people unable to care for themselves.
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, 29 percent of people who are homeless in the city suffer from a mental illness or substance abuse.
“It’s no secret that a third of those experiencing homelessness in the city and county deal with mental-health and substance-abuse issues,” Councilman Jose Huizar said in a statement. “By expanding court-ordered conservatorships, we can finally get these people the care they need and deserve. The current, vicious, revolving-door system where the same people are shuttled in and out of our jails and hospitals, again and again, 72-hours at a time, is a failed system. These people desperately need true, life-changing assistance.”
Huizar and Councilman David Ryu introduced a resolution Wednesday calling for the city’s lobbyists in Sacramento to back an audit of the 1967 Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which regulates California’s laws on involuntary commitment of the mentally ill, including those deemed “gravely disabled” and unable to care for themselves.
The resolution states that an audit of the law is needed “to identify if its statutes need to be clarified, and whether changes are needed to improve the local implementation of involuntary care of those unable to care for themselves.”
“We must recognize that we have an unresolved mental health crisis on our streets, and the status quo that relies far too heavily on our prison system is not working,” Ryu said. “I have worked in community mental health care for years, and when we deny proper conservatorship, we are denying proper care. We need more mental health resources and facilities in Los Angeles, but we also need to reform conservatorship law so that we can provide care to those who need it most.”
Last year, the city and county backed state legislation allow social workers and law enforcement officers to detain severely mentally ill people who refuse life-saving medical treatment. Officials noted then that under state law, only mentally ill people who pose a danger to themselves or others or are “gravely disabled” can be held for involuntary evaluation and treatment in a psychiatric setting.
The city and county pushed to amend the language that defines gravely disabled as “a condition in which a person, as a result of a mental health disorder, is unable to provide for his or her basic personal needs for food, clothing, shelter” to add “or medical treatment where the lack or failure of such treatment results in substantial physical harm or death.”
That effort failed in the state Legislature last year, and the councilmen called on the state to take up the issue again so “more deserving people can get the assistance they need.”
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