Margaret A.M. Heine

is the principal counsel at Heine Law Group in Fullerton, California. She is licensed in California and Washington and has authority to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States and the United States Court of International Trade.

Her practice includes estate planning, wills, trusts, and probate as well as business, real estate, and civil litigation. Email: or visit company website


According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are approximately 250,000 mentally ill homeless of whom 140,000 may be considered seriously mentally ill.  That is only the number of mentally ill people whom are homeless there are countless others living in family homes or other places with untreated mental illness conditions.

In California, the depth and scope of the mentally ill has been talked about over the years.  How to handle this growing population and how to provide court services for them outside of the criminal justice system has posed a number of obstacles to those working in this field.

Help is on the way.  A new program, the Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act, SB 1338, will have new court programs going into effect this year, and extending through seven courts by October 1st of 2023.

The County Courts which will be implementing this new program are San Francisco, Riverside, Orange, San Diego, Stanislau, Toulumne and Glenn counties.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed the CARE Act into law in September.  The new law puts the California Judicial Council in charge of developing the platform and forms for use in the state’s courts.    The draft CARE Act Rules and Forms have been posted on the Judicial Council website.  The State’s Probate and Mental Health Courts will be implementing changes under the Act.  The comment period ended on January 27, 2023.

In addition to the Probate Courts involvement, addition information can be obtained from the Department of health Care Services (DHCS) on their CARE Act webpage and fact sheet.

Under the new system, any person referred to CARE will be able to have court appointed counsel represent them in all stages of court proceedings, even if they cannot pay for representation.  CARE is a civil program designed to help those involved in limited conservatorships and detentions.  It permits up to 24 months of services which would include short-term medications, support in recovery, and connections for social services as well as housing.

CARE acknowledges that it is difficult to treat people on a consistent basis if they do not have stable, continual housing.  So, part of the plan is to provide housing and thereby reduce the number of homeless, and to remove mentally ill homeless from the streets and get them on long term care regimens.

The goal is not to treat every homeless person with some form of mental illness, but to focus on those that are schizophrenic, have specific disorders, or are so impaired that they require the implementation of a Conservatorship to secure their wellbeing.  This would include short term hospital holds under a 72 hour, 5150 hold or a 14 day, 5250 hold based on the severity of the issues presented by the person.

Under the Act, family members, care providers, first responders could all petition the Court to intervene on behalf of the person, and get clinical assistance for the person.  The Plan is to provide consistent, targeted treatment and offer a coordination of services that many times is unavailable to persons in this situation.  This is a much larger pool of persons who can ask the Court for help than was previously allowed.  Also, when the petition is filed, the court will appoint an assessment team to make sure that there is a cohesive treatment plan and that compliance with the plan is voluntary.

This is the first coordinated Court system in the country to specifically address the needs of the mentally ill.  Ultimately, the program will be expanded to all courts in the State of California after the phase in of the initial seven counties. It is expected that all counties will be up and operational by December 2024.

It is important to keep in mind that this is a coordinated approach to helping people with specific mental conditions that can benefit from community based programs and community based housing for long term mental health improvement.  It is not a cure all for homelessness nor mental health.  Plus the program cannot be dissected in a mental health component and a housing component as the goal is to provide coordinated services to achieve a goal of stabilization.

For all others, California still has the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which was passed in 1967, which sets out the standards for how courts can assist with conservatorships by a family member or the public guardian for other mental illness conditions not covered by the CARE Act.

Another California plan, Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), was part of the 2002 Laura’s Law.  This also provides court oversight of treatment plans for specific mental illness issues.  This law narrows the protections of the Lanterman-Petric-Short (LPS)  Act, by allowing psychiatric care through an outpatient conservatorship, for persons who were hospitalized or incarcerated due to violent behavior—which fell outside of the individuals who were a danger to themselves or gravely disabled under the LPS Act.  Only about one-half of the counties in the State have implemented programs under the AOT portion of Laura’s Law.

The State has committed $15.3 billion dollars to address the issues of mental health and homelessness under this program.

How successful will the programs be?  The jury is still out on LPS Act and AOT, but the findings are encouraging enough to expand services and try to make a greater impact with the CARE Act.  Certainly, more specifics will emerge as the implementation date gets nearer.  At least California is trying something innovative to address a very real problem in the State.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.