California Democrats Double Down on Efforts to Involuntarily Commit the Homeless

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California just wrapped up its 2023 legislative session last week with a flurry of bills that promise to maintain the  state’s status as a neoliberal hell that makes life miserable for all but the wealthiest. It’s worth remembering California  has a Democrat supermajority, so much of the following can be read as a summary of Democrat priorities.

The Homelessness Crisis 

I wrote back in January about the coming California “CARE” Courts and their potential for abuse.

Gov. Gavin  Newsom’s biggest legislative priority last year, these courts allows family members and others (such as police) to petition someone with suspected mental illness into civil courts, where a judge would order a treatment plan and require mental health departments to provide it. There are major concerns about CARE as opponents of the law have pointed out that the criteria are subjective, speculative and subject to bias.

In California, more than 171,000 people are homeless – that’s 30 percent  of the national homeless total  in a state that has 12 percent of the national population. And no, the homeless are not flocking to California to live the good life. Most of the homeless people on California‘s streets are Californians who were simply priced out of housing. A major study released earlier this year from UCSF’s Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative showed that the main driver behind homelessness in California is the increasinging precariousness of the working poor.

Rather than take action to prevent homelessness (in neoliberal California, public housing isn’t even considered, and the “fight” for affordable housing never seems to get anywhere), the state and its Democrat supermajority have settled on a policy to make the homeless disappear. While other states are criminalizing homelessness in an attempt to get the unhoused out of sight and out of mind, California is doing it under the guise of “caring.”

Now two new bills could vastly expand the ability of the state to commit homeless Californians against their will.

Senate bill 43, which is headed to Newsom’s desk, expands the criteria for the detention, forced treatment and conservatorship of those deemed mentally ill. For example, the bill adds alcoholism to the definition “gravely disabled,” which means it could now lead to involuntary hospitalization and conservatorship. The bill also makes it easier for an expert witness’ opinion to lead to the appointment or reappointment of a conservator.

California’s approach ignores the fact that it is next to impossible to treat addiction and mental illness without stable housing. In 2016, California enacted a “housing first” model in contrast to the long-established “treatment first.” The problem is any relapse means losing housing.

Now the state is going with involuntary treatment, which has been shown to be ineffective. Human Rights Watch on the many problems with California’s new approach:

Californians lack adequate access to supportive mental health care and treatment.[39] However, this program does not increase that access.

Investing in involuntary treatment ties up resources that could otherwise be invested in voluntary treatment and the services necessary to make that treatment effective.[40] California should provide well-resourced holistic community-based voluntary options and remove barriers to evidence-based treatment to support people living with mental health conditions and harmful substance use who might also face other forms of social exclusion. Such options should be coupled with investment in other social supports and housing.

Expanding forced treatment is a regressive, costly, and inequitable approach to addressing the structural barriers that keep communities from thriving. We respectfully urge you to reject SB 43 and instead direct resources to making voluntary treatment, housing, and other supportive services accessible to all.

A last-minute switch will also allow money from a $6 billion bond proposal to be used to construct facilities for involuntary confinement. Advocates for disabled Californians had originally supported the effort, which up until the last minute was supposed to be used solely to build ”unlocked, community-based” treatment facilities and supportive housing for people suffering from mental illness or addiction disorders.

But the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom adjusted the language at the 11th hour and California’s Democrat supermajority passed it in the state senate 35-2 and in the house 63-7.

The bond measure will now go to California voters in the Spring. The state will likely need the involuntary confinement facilities as California CARE Courts start in October.

The government refuses to attack issues that cause homelessness, such as low wages, lack of public housing, the Wall Street takeover of housing rentals and their efforts to keep rents artificially high, or the lack of a social safety net, etc. In the absence of such solutions, new “innovative” schemes keep popping up.

Nonprofiting Off of Homelessness 

The San Francisco-based nonprofit Urban Alchemy is starting to take its approach  to dealing with homelessness nationwide. That approach includes hiring formerly incarcerated and/or homeless individuals to corral the  homeless into designated encampments and police them. More from The Nation:  

UA “practitioners” or “ambassadors” guard corners and patrol Market Street, respond to emergency calls relating to homelessness, and monitor tent encampments and shelters. Some wear sunglasses and balaclavas with their uniform: a camouflage jacket emblazoned on the back with the group’s all-seeing-eye logo…

“We’re the Google or Instagram of social services,” [cofounder Lena] Miller says. She envisions the group going “from city to city,” revolutionizing the industry. Until recently, UA’s website said it planned to expand to three more cities by summer 2025—including Portland, Ore., where it’s at the center of a plan to corral the unhoused population into massive city-sanctioned encampments.

What exactly is innovative about Urban Alchemy’s approach?

UA skeptics like Kaitlyn Dey, a Portland-based homelessness researcher, argue that politicians use nonprofits to keep their promises to reduce interactions between police and homeless people without substantially changing the system. And to the average liberal city dweller, having a nonprofit administer the sweeps makes that work appear more humane than when armed cops do it. Working with groups like UA also reduces transparency—internal UA e-mails, for instance, are not subject to FOIA requests—insulating local officials should problems arise.

Urban Alchemy has faced at least six lawsuits with allegations that the nonprofit’s “ambassadors” are dealing hard drugs, making sexual advances on the vulnerable, and assaulting people on the streets.

In Other California News…

The destruction of the state’s once proud (and free) higher education system continues. The California State University system voted on September 13 to raise tuition 34 percent over the next five years. They did so despite protests from students and the faculty union. The systems’ board of trustees claim they must raise tuition for equity and access reasons, i.e., raising graduation rates among Black, Latino and Native American students.

Students weren’t buying it. From Cal Matters:

Across roughly 2.5 hours of designated time for public comments, an hour longer than trustees planned, students  inveighed against the trustees for proposing the tuition hikes and reprimanded the trustees for slouching and looking at their phones during the students’ remarks. Some decried what they called the inherent racism of raising revenue through tuition hikes at a system that enrolls mostly students of color. A few admonished Cal State for not explaining how the hikes will affect students who pay full tuition. Others bitterly observed that the incoming system chancellor’s compensation will exceed $1 million.

“Students are supposed to be offered affordable higher education but instead we are slowly being stripped away of our education because the CSU fails to see us as students but instead sees us as their salary increases,” said Cassandra Garcia, the student body president at Sonoma State.

“You watch your students sleep in cars from the comfort of your gated communities,” another student from Cal State Dominguez Hills said.

“We are working numerous jobs just to be able to attend and you want to raise tuition,” said Courtland Briggs, a student from Cal State Channel Islands. “It’s pathetic. Y’all are pathetic.”

California students did not pay any tuition until Ronald Reagan’s time as governor when he cut state funding for college and universities and laid the foundation for a tuition-based system. In 1975 students at University of California schools were paying $600 in fees and tuition. With the most recent tuition hikes, Cal State students will soon be paying roughly $8,000 per year in just tuition. In-state tuition for the University of California system is $14,436, which doesn’t include fees, housing, books, etc. Those costs can  bring it up to more than $40,000.

There’s no telling yet if all the California college students sleeping in their cars will get caught up in the state’s CARE courts.


Gov. Gavin Newsom, a longtime recipient of money from the tech industry, is expected to veto a bill that requires a trained human safety operator to be present in self-driving trucks using public roads in the state. Back in August, one of Newsom’s senior advisers wrote a letter to the bill’s author, complaining that restrictions on autonomous trucking would undermine regulations and limit innovation.


Newsom is likely to  sign into law a bill that would require judges to consider whether a parent affirms their child’s gender identity in making custody and visitation decisions. The  parent’s feelings on their child’s identity would be weighed alongside factors, such as a history of drug or alcohol abuse or domestic violence, in determining the child’s well-being.

While those opposed argued the bill is intrusive, a bill headed to Newsom that would include housekeepers, nannies and other household staff in laws requiring health and safety protections is unlikely to survive his veto power due to the sanctity of the private household. He vetoed a similar proposal before, claiming that private households cannot be regulated by the state in the same way as businesses.


The Ninth Circuit Court recently ruled that prisons can use solitary confinement for as long as they would like. The ruling invalidated a 2015 settlement between the state and prisoners, which limited the hours a prisoner could be in solitary confinement and restricted its use to those who pose a danger to other inmates.

Naturally, a bill in Sacramento to restrict the use of solitary confinement died at the end the of the legislative session. The Sacramento Bee reported that ‘this is to allow time to “facilitate good faith negotiations” with Newsom, who vetoed a previous attempt at limiting the use of solitary in prisons.’

Some Good News … Maybe  

On the bright side, the California legislature passed a bill that would make workers who are on strike for more than two weeks eligible for unemployment benefits. Now the only question is if Newsom will sign it into law. Hollywood writers have been on strike for more than 100 days while actors began striking on July 14. The large majority of strikes in 2022 lasted less than five days, however.

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  1. Vicky Cookies

    (to the tune of “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” by Phil Ochs)

    My yard sign says ‘no one’s illegal’
    And that’s the view I have espoused
    We’re all one big human family
    The immigrant and the unhoused
    But when they show up in my suburb
    We’ll need those old train cars for cows
    So, love me, love me, love me
    I’m a liberal

  2. Lexx

    I had been hearing about the huge homeless encampments in Olympia. There was video online of the long lines of dilapidated RV’s along Lilly Road (the hospital district).

    When Husband visited in July, the camp had been removed and had popped up again along the freeway. Husband yesterday driving southbound I-5: ‘When we come around this corner look over to your right. They’ll be up on the shoulder among those trees’… like we were hoping to spot elusive wildlife on our safari.

    Instead of elephants there were large gray rocks placed every three or four feet, leaving no space large enough for a tent. There was no sign they had ever been there… Olympia is the state capital of a ‘blue state’. The unhoused are disappearing here too, one way or another.

    Heading out 101 I’m muttering under my breath ‘but everyone has to live somewhere… where else could they go… what’s after the freeway?’

    1. ambrit

      “… what’s after the freeway?’”
      I hesitate to say it, but there is “under the freeway.” (And I don’t mean bridges either.)
      We are well on our way to a New Great Depression, only it seems to be a slow, steady decline at present. I know not whether the “break” will happen or not, or if “events” will continue at a gradual rate, but as the old saying has it: “There’s nowhere left to go but down.”
      Stay safe and practice “community.” It will be a literal survival skill.

    2. wendys

      I have seen the ugly rocks by the freeway and it reminded me of the spikes they put on wall tops to keep birds from nesting there. I don’t understand how we have traded our humanity for money.

  3. Frankie

    “Most of the homeless people on California‘s streets are Californians who were simply priced out of housing.”

    “Californians” for the last couple of weeks, or months, or maybe a year before coming west to start a band, go to Cali to get a fresh start, or “migrants” smuggled across the border and sent to urban centers by Joe ‘BidenVenido.”

    Perhaps chronological means testing; the longer one can prove they’ve lived, worked and paid taxes in California could be a way to allocate homeless services.

    Junkies won’t and can’t pay rent. Over half of the “homeless” in San Francisco refuse to be housed because the hotels are hellholes, they can’t smoke, have animals and party.

    People have a constitutional right to travel. If one can’t make it somewhere, go back from where you came, be it a hick town, urban center with winter weather or a village in Central America.

    1. ambrit

      The problem with the “go back to where you came from” argument is that it sets up a perfect rationale in favour of presenting the “immigrant” with a lose-lose choice. Either expend resources you probably no longer have to “go back,” or have some “well meaning, charitable group” ‘assist’ you on your way; in other words, deportation. Secondly, at the end of the ‘internal exile’ process, the “immigrant” is faced with not only the conditions that he or she or it originally faced, which prompted them to move elsewhere in the first place, but also exhausted resources, probably expended in the original ‘move.’
      This is not a simple problem. However, our present day Politicos are expert at crafting simplistic and emotionally satisfying, to donors at least, solutions. Add in the extra layer of cash cows like Public Private Partnerships and NGOs and we have a Neo-liberal Paradise.
      This looks to be a “real world” exercise in Neo-liberal Rule #2: “Go die.”
      It is classic Social Darwinism.
      First you ‘define down deviancy.’ The example here being; “The Homeless are “ill” and must be treated as such.”
      Second, you ‘create’ solutions to the first category of ‘problems.’ “We will ‘house’ them and supply ‘treatments.'”
      Third, you re-define the operative terms:
      3A: “Housing for the “homeless” will be giant, militarized camps out in some distant spot. [Where the ‘homeless’ will no longer ‘disturb’ the community.]”
      3A1: Since in true Neo-liberalism, nothing is ‘free,’ then the “camp partners” must work to support the camp in which they live. (Sounds suspiciously like the old County Work Farm.)
      3B: “Treatment will now include “potentially” lethal outcomes. {Go long Zyklon B futures.}
      3C: “‘Homeless’ now can include social and political “deviants.” {For definition of “deviant,” see above.} Note: The present California bill includes such a shift in definition by including alcoholism in the list of items subject to the imposition of ‘mandatory and externally imposed treatment.’ Shades of the old Soviet enforced “Psychiatric Treatment Regime!”
      Welcome to a new presentation of our eternal Danse Macabre.

    2. playon

      Frankly Frankie, immigrants tend to be some of the hardest-working people I have ever met, I would doubt that the majority of homeless people in California are immigrants. Peole coming to CA to start a band? Lol this isn’t 1966.

      There was a study linked here on NC a few months ago that suggested that drug use was not a predecessor to homelessness but rather the other way around – people tended to use drugs as an escape from life on the streets.

    3. Joe Well

      The kind of ugliness and thoughtlessness found in comments throughout the interwebs but not NC.

      If you’re going to try to directly refute a key statement by an NC author, who no doubt has done a lot of research on the topic, you should at least provide your own research. Here is the “California Statewide Study of People Experiencing Homelessness” released just a couple of months ago. The executive summary doesn’t support your idea that the homeless are from out of state. I would bet Conor read this exact study before writing.

  4. JonnyJames

    Of course, superficial perception is what counts in politics. The Gaviner and his party (or the other party) doesn’t give a toss about the environment, the unhoused, PG&E crimes and corruption, price-gouging, market abuse, insurance extortion, the housing crisis etc. But they need to hatch a scheme that makes it look like they do.

    (sarcasm alert) The way to deal with the unhoused is through “market” solutions as usual. We have a surplus population of unproductive drug addicts, mentally ill, and lazy slackers. The solution is to create a green energy market and make these unproductive people serve the interests of Green Energy to save the planet.

    We can turn this population into Soylent Green, which is used as a source for organic, green energy to generate electricity for our EVs and electronic society. We are going to need massive amounts of additional electricity generation to save the planet. SG can be used as organic fertilizer as well, thus reducing the dependence on evil countries like Russia for fertilizers.

    The unhoused population will do their bit to be productive members of society and help save the planet. This is the ultimate act of patriotism. We can make ‘merka great by creating SG infrastructure!

    Also a new category on the commodities markets will be a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity to make huge profits. Get in on the ground floor and make a killing!

    This is a no-brainer: green energy, solve the housing crisis, organic fertilizer, and great investment opportunities. What’s not to like?

  5. AdamK

    At last something useful is getting done. I live in California, I saw the homeless population, and yes part of it is priced of housing, but part of it are simply mentally ill. You go through the streets and you seem to be in an open air closed ward. I personally was attacked by one and daughter had to push me to a cafe so I won’t get hurt. This is an unliveable situation, and despite my progressive opinions something has to be done. It has to include expanding the support system for mental health and not committing people to jails, but human rights cannot be an excuse for doing nothing. If you visit all western cities you see filth, people living without sanitation, people defecating in the streets and backyards of private properties. I realise that there lots of reasons for the situation, but we need to addressed them one by one. One of the problems is that a big chunk of the housing market is owned by companies of investors which raises the prices to raise the profits – that should be also addressed. Housing is a human right too.

    1. JBird4049

      “This is an unliveable situation, and despite my progressive opinions something has to be done. It has to include expanding the support system for mental health and not committing people to jails, but human rights cannot be an excuse for doing nothing. If you visit all western cities you see filth, people living without sanitation, people defecating in the streets and backyards of private properties.”

      Let us also not forget that many of the homeless are employed, but they live in their vehicle, couch surf, or have a tent.

      Homelessness is a major cause or trigger of mental illness. Yes, often mental illness and drug abuse causes homelessness, but at least as often, becoming homeless is the trigger for mental illness, which often causes drug abuse. Or I can say homelessness triggers drug abuse, which causes mental illness.

      With all this in mind, let us also not forget that the state of California refuses to fund healthcare, including mental, for its citizens and also refuses to solve the forty year long housing crisis, and has been laggardly in raising the minimum wage as well. The current situation is profitable for the healthcare industry, the developers and investors in housing, and the various corrupt NGOs that are making bank off of it. This includes the bureaucracy, which often works together with the NGOs, in many cities and counties that are incentivized to not solve problems.

      I suspect, that like with the state prison system with its very powerful prison guard union, the other police organizations, and the private prison and healthcare industries, the goal is not to solve the problems, but to monetize it, which they all will. A permanent financial abattoir.

      1. lyman alpha blob

        I’m sure drug abuse can cause homelessness, but when I lived in Seattle in the 90s there was plenty of drug use and while there was a problem with homelessness (I remember the homeless being swept off the streets in advance of Slick Willy showing up for the AIPAC conference), it was nothing like it is now and drug (ab)users could for the most part still afford an apartment.

        I still think the most important result in the 2020 elections was passage of CA Prop 22. Wonder how many people with crap gig jawbz are on the streets because of that?

    2. Joe Well

      You realize that you can be both mentally ill AND priced out of housing?

      And that people with regular mental health crises retreat into their own homes when they feel an episode coming on? Something that people can’t do if they have no home?

      It would take a moonshot effort to tackle mental health. It only takes some concrete and some political will to build a bunch of apartment buildings to bring the housing stock in line with that of the vast majority of high-income and middle-income countries. California has manufactured homelessness by restricting housing. They need to stop manufacturing homelessness and start manufacturing housing.

      In other words, California is a dystopia that treats people like garbage and needs to be less of a dystopia and treat people less like garbage. Until then, expect to experience more unpleasantness. Did you think dystopias are supposed to be fun?

  6. Ana

    An example of real life in the belly of the beast.

    Today I spent time helping a 92 year old retired cardiac surgical nurse get a proper evaluation for a wheelchair. She lives in the same senior apt building I do.

    Due to the complexity of our laughable healthcare system, she had no idea how to get a wheelchair authorized. She has suffered unspeakably the past year with a disunion fracture, spinal stenosis, neuropathy, and lukemia.

    Medicare simply will not purchase an adequate wheelchair for her because her assorted diagnosis add up to “level two” need. As it was I got the wheelchair evaluation to happen because of who I was. She needed it 18 months ago.

    She also, at her expense, bought an electric trike so she could continue to go out and bring food and water to the local homeless camps here in downtown Sacramento.

    After the evaluation we went to the Safeway next door and bought food and water for the homeless huddled against the side wall of Safeway.

    I’m an old civil rights atty and was a Deputy Director of the State Dept of Rehabilitation. I also wrote parts of the laws here in Calif that later became the ADA.

    To say that I am incandescent with rage at what our government has become is a gross understatement.

    Ana in Sacramento

  7. Glenda

    I generally appreciate your work, Conner…..but you’ve got it all wrong about Care Court in California.
    It does NOT target all homeless people with Involuntary treatment.
    It is only for the tiny segment of people who are unable to care for themselves AND have a diagnosis of schizophrenia spectrum disorders. This is a tiny population – for SF I think the number is about 600 individuals that have been in court ordered treatment. If they quit the treatment then the legal battle begins to make them eligible for Care Court. The small number of people who get treatment this way is designed to not overwhelm the system where there are few hospital beds or sub-acute hospitals or other step down full support service facilities.

    Here is a link to an article that has real information on who is impacted by Care Court.

    CA really needs to adopt a hospital setting for those with SMI (serious mental illness) not just letting them get swept up into the HUGE (for profit) prison/jail system. These folks get arrested and go to the only place that has a bed for them. If they are or become psychotic they get to live in solitary confinement for months or even years here. Court hearings about conditions in CA jails shows horrific conditions. Yet in Alameda Co. (Berkeley/Oakland area) they want to build a second “jail” staffed by guards and social workers to accommodate the huge SMI prisoner population. We see signs that say “Can’t get Well in a Cell” and “Care Not Cops” at our demonstrations against the prison system.

    1. JBird4049

      I can understand the decent impulse behind Care Court, but like with the sweeps of the homeless by the police under the guise of safety, it will likely be expanded into another civil rights nightmare. There were very, very good reasons for the disestablishment of the mental hospital system in all the states in the 1970s, but of course the community mental health clinics were intended to replace the hospitals were never funded, housing costs have gone insane, and the decent jobs anyone could do went away.

      But funding the police, jails, prisons, and courts, while underfunding legal aid, why that they can always find a way.

  8. stickNmud

    My thanks to Conor for posting this, and to the NC commentariat, especially Ana and Glenda for their comments, and I’d like to add a bit of historical and personal perspective. So, involuntary commitment used to be the norm in California. From a 12/8/2016 KQED article: “1967 Reagan signs the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act and ends the practice of institutionalizing patients against their will, or for indefinite amounts of time. This law is regarded by some as a “patient’s bill of rights”. Sadly, the care outside state hospitals was inadequate. The year after the law goes into effect, a study shows the number of mentally ill people entering San Mateo’s criminal justice system doubles.”.

    Prolly due to effects of fetal DES exposure and consequent horrendous puberty, I ended up in a locked pediatric psych ward at age 11. Most kids there had either one or no parents come to visit, and, unlike me, most came from underprivileged backgrounds, with boys and children of color over-represented. The drugs we were forced to take, Thorazine and Mellaril, tend to turn us into compliant walking ‘carrots’, and have real bad side effects, like weight gain (I gained 20% in 10 months), as well as permanent long term effects like tardive dyskinesia.

    Back in the late 1980’s, and again in the mid-’90s, I was homeless for nearly a year, but I had an old van, and later a small truck with a camper top to sleep in. The second time I got tickets from police for sleeping in my vehicle, threatened with citation for violating a no daytime sleeping in public law– all in one of the most progressive towns in California. I was treated better the first time living in Berkeley, and I was lucky that I had some resources and family/friends help, and was able to eventually get it together.

    Back in the early ’90s, I met a number of homeless gay teenage runaways in SF, some that ended up addicted to methamphetamine in order to survive on the street– and a few who did not survive. I’m sure it is so much harder now to get out of homelessness due to the extremely high cost of housing, and the lack of real jobs and living wages for low end work.

    Maybe some WPA-type jobs programs might help– combined with all the supportive services needed– to get folks out of the dead end squalor, and the police and CalTrans sweeps and loss of their belongings, and pay them to do something worth while, and give them some dignity and purpose. I understand that homelessness or metal illness can happen to anyone, and subsequent drug addiction may often be a survival mechanism.

    Btw, I noticed there is a new ‘army’ of street cleaners in the Financial District of SF who apparently began work after SalesForce CEO Marc Benioff threatened to find a new venue for his convention unless the City cleaned up the streets, etc. So our hopelessly corrupt City Family gummint can jump to it when their fave patron billionaire ‘cracks the whip’– lol.

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