Los Angeles County has taken a decisive step to address its mental health crisis by launching the Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Court program a year ahead of schedule. This state-funded initiative, beginning on December 1st, is designed to provide critical treatment for individuals with severe psychotic disorders, addressing both mental illness and homelessness.

The announcement came from county officials in Norwalk on November 30th. The CARE Court, operating within the Los Angeles Superior Court, allows various stakeholders like family members, first responders, and mental health professionals to petition for individuals with untreated schizophrenia and related disorders to receive treatment.

Eligibility for the CARE Court program, which is voluntary, will be determined by a judge at the Norwalk Courthouse. During Thursday morning’s press conference, County Supervisor Janice Hahn emphasized the urgent need for such a program. “We know that there are too many people with severe mental illness who are living on the streets. We’ve all seen them,” Hahn said. “So far, we’ve been unable to reach them or give them the care that they need. Families are at the end of their ropes. Communities are frustrated, and leaders up and down the state have felt like our hands have been tied.”

Key figures, including Judge Samantha P. Jessner, Dr. Lisa Wong, Ricardo D. Garcia, and John O’Malley, joined Hahn. According to Garcia, LA County is the eighth in California to implement CARE Court, expecting about 4,500 participants initially.


Different from diversion programs for the homeless, CARE Court focuses on preventing the cycle of homelessness and incarceration for people with severe mental illnesses. “The new tool provides an alternative to the way in which most individuals enter our county’s mental health system, which is usually through the criminal justice system,” Jessner explained. “This is an opportunity to have a civil process that links those entities and those services.”

Eligibility criteria for CARE Court include being at least 18 years old, diagnosed with a relevant disorder, not clinically stabilized, and in a deteriorating mental health situation. Those in the program can receive services for up to two years, with periodic review hearings.

Concerns have been raised about potential civil rights issues, especially for people of color. However, CARE Court participants will receive free legal representation through the public defender’s office. “Every person who becomes a part of CARE Court has the absolute right to legal representation,” Garcia assured at the press conference.

The CARE Court was enacted through Senate Bill 1338, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, and is supported by $321 million in state funding for LA County. Newsom also signed two additional bills, contributing to the Behavioral Health Services Program and Bond Measure, Proposition 1.

Despite the optimism, opposition exists. A coalition against Proposition 1 argues it could defund community mental health services. Yet, local leaders see the CARE Court and increased housing and services as critical for tackling the county’s homelessness crisis.

The county’s homelessness has increased significantly, with a notable percentage suffering from severe mental illnesses. “CARE Court offers people with schizophrenia and other related serious untreated mental health disorders the help they need,” Wong commented. “It is the latest resource we are offering to put at-risk community members on the path to recovery. Ultimately, our priority is to enable people to heal, live safely in the community, and thrive; and our goal is to ensure that there is no wrong door when someone reaches out for help.”

Garcia, while optimistic, cautions about the developing nature of the program. “It’s just barely launched in some other counties,” he said. “So we’re not 100% certain what to expect from the CARE Court process. But what we do know, what I’m confident of,” he continued, “is that people in Los Angeles who are experiencing very real mental health crises will be able to receive additional help.”

The CARE Court represents a bold, innovative attempt to combat the mental health and homelessness crises, with Hahn acknowledging its untested nature but praising the state’s ambition. This initiative could transform the lives of many struggling with mental health challenges in Los Angeles County, providing them with the necessary support to reclaim their lives and dignity.