California Legislature Passes Bill to Expand Conservatorship Laws to Help Homeless Individuals with Severe Mental Health & Substance Use Disorders

August 30, 2018

Sacramento – The California Legislature passed a bill by Senators Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) to expand and strengthen California conservatorship laws.  Senate Bill 1045 establishes a five year pilot program that authorizes San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego Counties to create a new conservatorship focused on providing critical services and housing to the most vulnerable Californians who suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues, and who cannot care for themselves.

SB 1045 passed by a vote of 39-0, and will now head to the Governor for his signature. SB 1045 is sponsored by San Francisco Mayor London Breed and the City and County of San Francisco, and is also supported by the Cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica.  SB 1045 is co-authored by Senators Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), and Assemblymember Philip Chen (R-Brea.)  

“It is inhumane to watch as people deteriorate and die on our streets,” said Senator Wiener. “Our counties don’t have the tools they need to effectively help individuals suffering from severe mental health and substance abuse disorders. This bill makes our conservatorship laws more effective. I am proud that the legislature took a step forward to address the crisis we are experiencing in our counties every day. ”

“Currently, local governments’ hands are tied when gravely disabled Californians experiencing homelessness refuse services,” said Senator Stern. The old model of conservatorship doesn’t give us the flexibility we need to address the crisis. People who cannot help themselves are dying on the streets and our communities suffer with them.  If signed by Governor Brown, this law will give our local leaders the power to update and modernize our antiquated and inhumane conservatorship system.”

SB 1045 creates a five year pilot program that focuses on providing housing with wraparound services to care for the most vulnerable Californians, many of whom are living on the streets. Under the bill, the County Board of Supervisors would have to opt-in to the program by a vote via resolution, as is the case under Laura’s Law, and ensure that no resources dedicated to voluntary services and programs are curtailed or diverted in order to support this conservatorship.

“I want to thank Senator Scott Wiener for his leadership on this important bill,” said Mayor London Breed. “It is not humane to allow people with severe mental health and addiction issues to continue to suffer on our streets. This bill would give San Francisco the ability to help individuals who are incapable of caring for themselves, while providing the wraparound services they need to get their lives back on track. San Francisco is ready to get to work to help those most in need.”

Once the county votes to establish the program, in order for an individual to be considered for conservatorship, an individual must be suffering from serious mental illness and substance use disorder, such that those co-occurring conditions have resulted in frequent detentions under a 5150 hold, or frequently being held for psychiatric evaluation and treatment.  

Under the bill, the director of a county mental health or social services department, the county sheriff, the director of a hospital or emergency health facility or the head of a facility providing intense services can recommend to the county that a person be conserved. If the county officer investigating conservatorship agrees with that recommendation, a judge will consider the case of the person to be conserved and only order conservatorship if there are no viable alternatives to caring for that individual.

The conservatorship, which would require supportive housing with wraparound services, would end after a year. During that year, the conservatee could petition for a hearing on their status once a month, which would allow them the opportunity to be released from the conservatorship prior to the full year.

The bill also requires San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego Counties to form working groups to assess the effectiveness of this new conservatorship, including collecting data that would be used to determine the effectiveness of the 5 year pilot program. 

SB 1045: