The Deadly Logic of CARE Courts

by on August 23, 2022 · 6 comments

in California, Homelessness

By Mat Wahlstrom

We’ve been dealing with many attacks on our rights lately.

From above, the activist Supreme Court has gutted the right to privacy that underpinned the right to reproductive freedom as well as non-normative sexuality, allowed tax dollars to be transferred from secular public to private religious schools, and endorsed performative public prayer in the name of someone who specifically rejected making a show of praying in public (Matthew 6:5).

From Republicans, who almost universally support the January 6 insurrection, it’s the freedom to mass murder so long as it’s with bullets, and continued voter disenfranchisement.

But while these have been dominating headlines, we’ve lost sight of the single most dangerous one yet: the plan touted by state and local Democrats to create a separate legal system through what are perversely called “CARE Courts.”

An acronym for Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment, Senate Bill 1338 proposes a raft of policy and legislative changes allegedly to assist people living with mental health and substance abuse challenges. Championed by Governor Newsom and currently set for approval by the Legislature this week, if passed it will almost certainly be signed into law.

It involves an initial $65M for set-up costs and $49M each year after for enforcement, but $0 to address the already chronic shortage of therapists or suitable housing. (As it is, 57% of Californians are unable to access the behavioral health care they need, and California comes in 34th in state rankings on access to care.)

And it allows anyone from family members to first responders — including private “homeless outreach workers” — to petition for a court order.

Disability Rights California correctly points out several flaws with SB 1338. It does not mandate housing be provided, and would perpetuate institutional racism and widen health disparities. And the language of the statute is sloppy and imprecise, using terms not defined in the bill itself or in California law.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also joined in condemning SB 1338, as it will once again allow people to be medicated and institutionalized against their will, endangering the civil liberties of Californians living with disabilities, caught up in the criminal legal system, and/or experiencing houselessness.

In short, creating a different legal track for certain people by definition creates second-class citizens with diminished rights and protections relative to others.

One might think that these criticisms are based in the Law of Unintended Consequences. But taken together, it’s difficult if not impossible to see them as absolutely intentional.

Our problems with mental and physical disabilities and homelessness are the direct result of our electeds refusing to redress the lack of accessible health care and housing for everyone. And now they want to wash their hands of it by being allowed to replace our society of common weal with a polity of the competent, in which autonomy is tied to financial capacity — and devil take the hindmost.

And less anyone think this interpretation is alarmist, we have the experience of our neighbor to the north to show the consequences of following this deadly logic.

Bill C-7 recently amended Canada’s “medical assistance in dying” (MAiD) program, their national version of California’s End of Life Option Act. It widened the criteria for allowing legal suicide beyond the strictly medical definitions of pain from terminal illnesses (from which death was “reasonably foreseeable”) to encompass those who feel diminished quality of life.

As predicted by many, this has led to outsized euthanasia of disabled and poor persons, who are pushed into thinking death is the only way to escape suffering from deliberate policy decisions that punish them. And next year, legislation will augment it further to include the mentally ill.

We already have problems with existing laws to protect the unhoused not being followed, from the city’s violating court orders on homeless enforcement to hospitals charged with dumping patients on the street. How can anyone expect there to be fewer problems with a system that enshrines their inequality? Or that when it fails by design, it wouldn’t be expanded to countenance eugenics?

Please, call 844-537-1657 to be auto-connected to your Assemblymember’s office and tell them to vote NO on SB 1338. The life you save may be your own.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mat Wahlstrom August 23, 2022 at 11:33 am

As an alternative to calling, you can send an email by clicking the link to the ACLU in the article or here,


Mat Wahlstrom August 31, 2022 at 7:02 pm

SB 1338 cleared the Legislature today, goes to Newsom’s desk for signing by 9/30 — but I’ll bet he does it before the holiday weekend as a stunt to play off the heatwave, once again using the most vulnerable as political props. Gross.


kh September 1, 2022 at 8:35 am

This is a long overdue step in the right direction. Lack of access to mental healthcare and addiction counseling cannot be used as an excuse for those who refuse it. The ACLU has been an effective advocate for the right of our most broken humans to persist in squalor, addiction, suffering, and eventually death.

Homeless deaths and suffering is worse than it’s ever been. These people desperately need help, yesterday, and the ACLU needs to get on board or get out of the way.


Mat Wahlstrom September 1, 2022 at 9:45 am

“Lack of access to mental healthcare and addiction counseling cannot be used as an excuse for those who refuse it.” That’s straight up admitting that the really important thing is that these people be removed from your sight.

You dismiss addressing any of the many concerns raised, and assume the right to dispose of people about whom you know nothing.

And you want us to accept your revulsion as compassion.

Seems sociopathy is our society’s real mental health crisis.


kh September 1, 2022 at 10:05 am

You can disagree without the character attacks.

We don’t have to reject a policy based on it not also providing all wrap around services, that are provided by existing policies. Those can be advocated for and improved as well. But that was never your point as it sounds clear that the bottom line is you oppose the premise of removing someone from the street against their will.

People suffering in plain sight certainly impacts more than just the victim. And no, I do not want anyone left to die in my sight, or anyone else’s sight, or out of sight. I want everyone to be on a path to a healthy and meaningful life. I’ll gladly share that “revolting sociopath” mindshet with Gov. Newsom.

There must be some circumstance, some line, where forced intervention is justified. We just disagree on where to draw that line. If someone is standing on the edge of the bridge, does that cross your line? Is it a violation of their civil rights to forcibly prevent them from jumping?

There will always be classes of citizens with less rights than others. Minors, criminals, the incapacitated, and 5150s to name a few. It’s oversimplifying it to say otherwise.


Mat Wahlstrom September 1, 2022 at 11:44 am

“Removing someone from the street against their will” for no other crime than existing *is* the bottom line. And the second and third before it are deputizing private citizens to remove them and earmarking upwards of $100M to create a separate legal system instead of for wraparound services that would address the actual problem. The CARE Court strategy is all stick and no carrot.

Calling my reply a personal attack when your comment was a literal attack on persons is projection.

We’ve been down this road before, and it always leads to the same place:

“A proposal that ties treatment to courts is retrograde. It harks back to a dark era when forced treatment of people with serious mental health conditions was the norm. It would unravel decades of hard-won progress by the disability rights movement to secure self-determination, equality, and dignity for people with disabilities.”

“In the past, people were labeled as mentally ill to silence political opposition. It is now possible that court referrals will be used to get people off of the street in order to fulfill political promises.”

“From the 1960s to 1980s, South Korean military dictators ordered roundups to beautify the streets. Thousands — including homeless and disabled people, as well as children — were snatched off the streets and brought to facilities where they were detained and forced to work.”

„The psychological importance of a planned campaign against the nuisance of begging should not be underestimated. Beggars often force their poverty upon people in the most repulsive way for their own selfish purposes. If this sight disappears from the view of foreigners as well, the result will be a definite feeling of relief and liberation. People will feel that things are becoming more stable again, and that the economy is improving once more.“

As Voltaire said over 200 years ago: “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”


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