Historic Homelessness Conservatorship Measure Passes State Assembly with Bipartisan Support

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

(Sacramento, CA) – Earlier today, Assembly Bill 1971 was approved by the California State Assembly on a bipartisan, unanimous vote of 67-0.  The measure, jointly authored by Assemblymembers Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), and Phillip Chen (R-Brea) changes the criteria by which local governments are able to provide critical medical care to homeless individuals who are mentally ill.

“It is inhumane to be a bystander when we have the power to do something to save lives with this vulnerable population,” saidAssemblymember Santiago (D-Los Angeles). “We need to ensure there is proper medical care for homeless individuals with mental illness who are suffering on the streets with serious physical ailments,” he continued.

“It’s no secret that in Los Angeles, and communities across California, we’re grappling with a homeless crisis,” said Assemblymember Friedman (D-Glendale).  “If we can open the door to treatment for those struggling with severe mental illness, we can get our most vulnerable the health care they need and get them off of the streets.”

“Thirty-nine percent of the nation’s chronic homeless population, which is defined as those individuals that have lived on the streets for over a year and are suffering from mental illness, reside in California,” said Assemblyman Phillip Chen (R-Brea).  “By fine-tuning the definition of ‘gravely disabled,’ we can make a dramatic positive difference for Californians with mental illness and empower them to live fulfilling lives.”

AB 1971, co-sponsored by the County of Los Angeles, the California Psychiatric Association, and the Steinberg Institute, changes the definition of “grave disability” to consider urgently needed medical treatment as a basic human need when assessing an individual’s need for conservatorship.  State law defines “gravely disabled” as a “condition in which a person, as a result of a mental health disorder, is unable to provide for his or her basic personal needs for food, clothing, or shelter.” This standard is used when considering conservatorship. The authors and proponents of AB 1971 believe that this definition does not go far enough. AB 1971 will amend the state’s definition to include “or medical treatment where the lack or failure of such treatment may result in a deteriorating physical condition or death.”

“More than 830 homeless people died on the streets of L.A. County last year. Many of these deaths were preventable with proper medical attention,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger who lead the effort on the county level.  “It’s time for California to join 37 other states who consider medical treatment a basic human need for those suffering from a serious mental illness.  I am pleased that the Legislature is moving forward on this vital effort.”

According to local data, there is an increased death rate among the homeless population in Los Angeles County. A significant number of these deaths were due to preventable and/or treatable medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, diabetes, cancer, cirrhosis, severe bacterial infection, and other treatable conditions. Although these numbers do not indicate whether or not the deceased homeless individuals suffered from mental illness that impaired their willingness to seek care, Los Angeles County has seen a 28 percent increase in homeless individuals suffering from a mental illness from 2015-2017.

By expanding the “gravely disabled” definition to include consideration of medical need where the lack or failure of such treatment may result in substantial physical harm or death, those involved hope to be able to provide care for more homeless individuals and save lives. 

AB 1971 will be transmitted to the Senate Rules Committee where it will be referred for a policy hearing in the coming weeks.

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago is the Chair of the Assembly’s Communications and Conveyance Committee, and a member of both the Assembly Public Safety Committee and the California Latino Legislative Caucus. He represents the 53rd District composed of the cities of Los Angeles, Huntington Park, and Vernon.

CONTACT: Jackie.Koenig@asm.ca.gov, (916) 319-2053