Senate Bill 1254 creates a guardian ad litem process to allow family, friends and other non-governmental and governmental agencies to provide less invasive assistance and care to seriously mentally/brain ill individuals who are otherwise incapable of caring for themselves.
California is at the climax of an unprecedented homelessness crisis with a larger percentage of homeless people suffering from some degree of mental/brain illness. According to an October 2019 policy brief by the California Policy Lab, nationally 80% of the unsheltered women have experienced trauma and 78% of unsheltered people – overall – have experienced some mental health condition.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times in an analysis of LA’s homeless population, “about 67% had a mental/ illness or a substance abuse disorder.” Other co-morbidities were also significantly higher for those living on the streets.
Senator Nick Petris (D, Oakland), one of the authors of the Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act never intended their landmark law to force people to live on the streets without shelter or treatment.
Yet, when gravely disabled individuals are on the streets, there are currently only a few ways to help them: allow them to come in voluntarily or pursue a “5150” hold. Any non-voluntary efforts or commitments is, in essence, the taking of rights and should be done only with the most serious and sober consideration. However, the current system does not provide adequate treatment for our severely mentally ill without significant and intrusive government action.
For example, the LPS Act does not allow the filing of a petition for conservatorship based on mental health incapacities (i.e. grave disability) by anyone other than mental health professionals (i.e. county public conservators). Even then, conservatorships can only happen when multiple professionals have deemed the petition appropriate after lengthy court action. A mentally incapacitated person has to be evaluated for conservatorship with multiple hearings and writs which is time-consuming and expensive.
Locked mental health holds can last anywhere from 3 days, 17 days (when combining 5150 and 5250 holds) to multiple months. Family members, friends, primary care physicians or others do not have the authority to file a petition for LPS conservatorship even though they may have had to care for the mentally/brain incapacitated person for years. The petition, once filed, must be proven by the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt by a unanimous jury. This is the same burden of proof as for capital murder trials.
While there have been other ways to provide for assisted outpatient treatment programs like Laura’s Law, the options to care for our severely mentally/brain ill homeless population are limited, constrained and untenable in the very archaic LPS Act.
Guardianship options in California are presently mostly applicable to minors. Adults needing care are considered under various conservatorships. A guardian ad litem is not a conservator; they are more akin to an attorney-in-fact or medical surrogate in an advance directive.
A guardian ad litem is temporarily appointed by the court to act on behalf of those who are not able to represent themselves, usually for a specific situation. There are numerous ways for a court to provide for a guardianship, though most occur through family, estate or probate legal proceedings.
- “Health Conditions Among Unsheltered Adults in the U.S.,” California Policy Lab, Policy Brief, Oct. 2019, Janey Rountree, Nathan Hess, and Austin Lyke.
- Oral History Interview with Nicholas C. Petris. California State Archives, State Government Oral History Program, Dec. 20, 1988, Feb. 14, 26, Apr. 6, Oct. 12, 31, 1989, Sacramento and Oakland, CA. Pages 106 – 145.
- “Patient left on streets that fed his addiction,” Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, May 10, 2020.
- “Top priority for California voters heading into 2020 primary? Homelessness,” Sacramento Bee, January 15, 2020.
- “Are many homeless people in L.A. mentally ill? New findings back the public’s perception.” L.A. Times, October 7, 2019.
- “San Francisco homeless stats soar: city blames big business, residents blame officials,” Fox News, August 20, 2019.
- “’If you think the system works, you’re dead wrong:’ a discussion on mental health in California,” CalMatters, May 20, 2019
- “Keeping the Mentally Ill Out of Jail,” Stephen Eide, City Journal, Autumn 2018
- “The Homeless Who Don’t Want Help,” Charles Krauthammer, December 23, 1988
- Josh Pane, former Sacramento City Council Member
- Denis J. Zilaff, J.D., former Supervising Deputy County Counsel, Sacramento County
Lance Christensen, (916) 651-4037