The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday acted unanimously to improve outcomes for those with mental illnesses, enhance public safety, and reduce the number of homeless residents by enacting Laura’s Law, opening the way for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment.

“By taking this action, we are strengthening the partnership between County Behavioral Health, the Sheriff, and the County’s entire law and justice system to ensure the wellbeing and rights of all of our residents, including the mentally ill, are served and protected,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Dawn Rowe.

Laura’s Law is a state statute named after a woman who was one of three people killed in Nevada County by an individual with mental illness who was not following his prescribed mental health treatment. The legislation established an option for counties to utilize courts, probation, and mental health systems to address the needs of individuals unable to participate in community mental health treatment programs without supervision.

“I appreciate the unanimous support of the Board of Supervisors to taking today’s meaningful step to address the human component of our current mental health crisis and its associated effects. I look forward to working with all our county partners as we collaboratively develop and implement solutions”, said Sheriff Shannon Dicus.

Dicus reports that the vast majority of the mentally ill homeless residents encountered by his Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement (HOPE) team don’t understand they are mentally ill and therefore resist help. Laura’s Law will allow for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment for those with severe mental illnesses who have a history of hospitalizations, incarceration and violence.

“Homelessness is, in large part, a mental health problem. This action recognizes that reality and gives law enforcement and the courts new tools and resources to ensure that our chronically homeless get the mental health services they need,” said Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Col. Paul Cook (Ret.).

To ensure the local implementation of Laura’s Law is successful, the Board of Supervisors is adding 18 positions to Behavioral Health, the Sheriff’s Department, and the Public Defender’s Office to counsel, treat, and protect the rights of potentially hundreds of new clients.

“The reality is we need to approach this from all angles, including a humanitarian perspective and not having a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Second District Supervisor Jesse Armendarez. “Homelessness and mental health are issues that continue to be close to my heart. I believe that Laura’s Law is one of many actions we will take in partnership with our Sheriff to move forward and help those who cannot help themselves.”

A report by the California Department of Health Care Services found during the 2019-20 fiscal year in 15 counties that had adopted Laura’s Law:

  • 72 percent of eligible individuals responded to the initial invitation for voluntary services and did not require a court petition. The participating counties attributed this to successful initial outreach and engagement.
  • Homelessness decreased by 32 percent.
  • Hospitalization decreased by 40 percent.
  • Contact with law enforcement decreased by 42 percent.
  • 30 percent of individuals were able to secure employment or participated in employment and/or educational services.
  • Victimization decreased by 72 percent.
  • Violent behavior decreased by 63 percent.
  • Substance abuse was reduced by 21 percent.

“The vote by the Board of Supervisors provides additional tools to assist people and families dealing with mental illness,” said Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman. “This step provides compassion and treatment options to people who need support.”

This week’s action is the latest bold step taken by the Board of Supervisors in the fight against homelessness.

In March, the Board agreed to leverage $72.7 million in federal, state and county resources to support the County’s landmark Homeless Strategic Action Plan, which was adopted by the Board last year.

“The implementation of Laura’s Law in San Bernardino County holds the promise of achieving measurable progress in addressing homelessness and two of its root causes – mental illness and substance abuse,” said Fifth District Supervisor Joe Baca, Jr.

Additional County Update News – June 16, 2023

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