BOS greenlights pilot program to serve homeless people with mental illness

Los Angeles County Seal.

Los Angeles County will launch a pilot program that deploys teams of nurses, social workers and counselors to move homeless individuals with mental illness into treatment and housing, following a Tuesday vote by the county Board of Supervisors. 

The Board of Supervisors’ unanimous approval of the effort comes after Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Mark Ridley-Thomas supported a motion to deploy the program. 

“This is another important tool in our ongoing effort to serve those suffering with mental health issues who fall into chronic homelessness,” said Barger in a prepared statement. “We remain dedicated to address the needs of these vulnerable individuals and must work together to find new solutions that improve and enhance the treatment options we provide for people experiencing homelessness.”

Currently, Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement teams, or HOME teams, which consist of mental health psychiatrists and counselors, substance abuse counselors and psychiatric social workers and peers, provide voluntary crisis intervention and mental health evaluations throughout the county. 

If an individual is determined to be in imminent danger or is gravely disabled, they can be considered for a 72-hour hold for involuntary evaluation and treatment to ensure their protection and safety, according to the motion. While governments define the standard differently, gravely disabled generally means that a person cannot care for their basic needs, such as food, clothing and shelter, due to a mental health disorder.  

Under the pilot program, teams will be able to pursue an application for an outpatient conservatorship for individuals who are not in imminent danger but are gravely disabled and refuse voluntary services, according to the motion. 

A conservatorship occurs when a judge appoints a person or organization with the responsibility to care for an individual who cannot care for themselves. 

The county’s Department of Mental Health proposed the pilot project to improve treatment and services for those with mental illness who experience a chronic cycle of homelessness, incarceration and hospitalization. 

“These clients are unable to make good decisions about their care. It is unjust and inhumane to allow our clients to be exposed to the streets or jails when help is available,” Jonathan Sherin, director of the department, said in a statement. “This pilot program would provide our HOME teams additional engagement tools, including ‘outpatient conservatorship’ to ensure a client receives treatment, without having to rely on hospitalization.”

A report back on the pilot’s progress is expected to be submitted by Oct. 9 and a final report by July 1, 2021, according to the motion. 

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