Court-appointed assistance for homeless should be expanded, City Councilmen say

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Los Angeles officials could soon take a proverbial machete to the red tape preventing many Angelenos from being protected under conservatorship laws.

City Councilman Jose Huizar and David Ryu, whose council districts are among the most affected by homelessness, proposed Wednesday expanding conservator appointments for people incapable of caring for themselves due to severe mental illness or substance abuse issues.

According to Huizar, conservatorships could prevent Angelenos suffering from mental illness from falling into homelessness and help those fighting substance abuse find help.

“It’s no secret that a third of those experiencing homelessness in the City and County deal with mental-health and substance-abuse issues,” Huizar said, citing the most recent homeless count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. “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.”

The details of the proposal would have Los Angeles lobbyists in Sacramento push for an audit of the 1967 Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which regulates California’s laws on involuntary commitment of the mentally ill. An audit would find areas of the law in need of clarification, or update.

Those suffering from drug addiction, repeated commitments, or exceptionally frequent use of emergency medical services could also be appointed a public conservator by courts. Those who have been involuntarily detained for psychiatric hospitalization at least eight times in a year under section 5150 of California’s welfare and institutions code would be most likely to enter conservatorship.

Currently, 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. Ryu and Huizar have argued the definition of “gravely disabled” is unclear.

“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,” Ryu said.

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