Two San Diego City Councilmembers Propose Bolstered Conservatorship Program for Homeless

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Two San Diego City Council members want to allocate $500,000 in the city’s 2023 budget to fund a new Conservatorship and Treatment Unit (CTU) through the City Attorney’s Office. The unit would target the city’s “most vexing homelessness cases,” including those who chronically tax the 911 system and emergency responders. 

“We have a moral and medical obligation to help the sickest, most vulnerable San Diegans living on the streets and we need to do it urgently,” said councilmember Jen Campbell.

Campbell appeared at a morning news conference alongside Councilmember Marni von Wilpert, who says the proposed unit is part of an effort to prevent San Diego’s most vulnerable residents from cycling through local emergency rooms.

“It’s our 911 response system who’s responding to these individuals, our firefighters and paramedics who are continually picking homeless individuals up and taking them to the emergency rooms. So that’s why we thought, we as a city need to step up and help and fund our own City Attorney’s Office to do this work to really take the burden off our emergency systems," von Wilpert said.

The councilmembers shared the story of a man they identified as "A.F." who called emergency responders 500 times over a 12-month period.

That man is one of 11 people who have gone through the City Attorney’s already established Lifesaving Intervention for Treatment (LIFT) program. There are 20 more cases pending in the program.

The CTU would consist of three new positions to bolster the LIFT program. They would assess the needs of potential participants, according to von Wilpert.

“To see what path of treatment they need. It doesn’t have to be conservatorship. The law requires the city of San Diego and our city attorneys to seek the least restrictive method of court-ordered treatment possible. You start with the least restrictive and go up if ordered and needed by a judge,” explained von Wilpert.

Homeless advocate Michael McConnell said he welcomes anything that gets people off the street in a “humane, effective and efficient fashion,” but says a city conservatorship already exists, and it doesn’t work.

“These things don’t work, no matter what it is, they don’t work unless you actually have the housing and good quality ongoing services that people can remain stable in that housing. Where are the ongoing quality services and the housing that people are going to be able to live in and remain housed? Otherwise, we’re just doing more of the same,” said McConnell.

The councilmembers say the new unit will help find housing and treatment programs for unsheltered individuals who are unable to care for their own needs and have no family or friends to look out for them.

The city budget review process on Mayor Todd Gloria’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year starts Wednesday.

“We must make it easier to get people struggling with repeated mental health crises in our community the help they need, whether they are housed or unhoused. That’s why I’m working closely with Governor Newsom on his CARE Court initiative, with legislative leaders in Sacramento to reform our conservatorship laws and with Chair Nathan Fletcher and the County to expand services, shelter and housing for people with high mental health needs. I look forward to learning more about the councilmembers’ proposal as we go through the budget review process this week with Council, and hear from councilmembers on their budget priorities,” said Gloria in a statement to NBC 7.

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