California state Sen. Scott Wiener’s newly introduced legislation would give counties more control over conservatorship programs for the mentally ill and drug-addicted. Currently, California counties can hospitalize people for 72 hours against their will if they pose a danger to themselves or others, or are gravely disabled. The county can go before a judge to seek a 14-day extension and then repeat the process every 30 days.
Wiener wants to expand the “gravely disabled” category to include those who are drug-addicted, many of whom can sober up and appear OK during the initial 72 hours and not qualify for the longer holds. But then they return to the streets and start using again. He also wants to ensure that conservatorships come with housing attached, adding a carrot to the stick.
“This is not about bringing people to jail or criminalizing people. This is about housing people and getting them healthy,” he said, noting he sees far too many examples every day. “I see this guy or this woman on the street who is clearly dying and clearly incapable of making decisions for themselves. Why the hell are we letting this person die on our streets?
It’s a great question. Nobody wants to return to the days of harsh mental institutions in the style of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” but the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Now, we’re in a state of total paralysis when it comes to getting clearly sick people the help they need.