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San Diego councilwoman propose conservatorship unit for homeless

A sunny sky shines over downtown San Diego on July 25, 2020.
KPBS Staff
A sunny sky shines over downtown San Diego on July 25, 2020.

San Diego Councilwomen Jennifer Campbell and Marni von Wilpert said Tuesday that they intend to fund a special conservatorship unit to assist homeless individuals as part of their budget priorities for the next fiscal year.

They want to allocate $500,000 for the Conservatorship and Treatment Unit, which would find housing and treatment programs for unsheltered individuals who are unable to care for their own needs, and who have no family or friends to look out for them.

The city begins its budget review process on Wednesday.

"We have a moral and medical obligation to intervene to help the sickest, most vulnerable San Diegans living on the street — and we must do so urgently," Campbell said. "Conservatorships are really a missing piece in San Diego's homelessness response and our proposal will bring help and hope to San Diegans with the hardest-to-treat mental health challenges."

The funds they suggest allocating would be used to prioritize treatment and housing placements for those experiencing homelessness with mental illness that leads to frequent calls on city emergency services, as well as provide for basic daily needs such as medical care, food, clothing and shelter.

As described by the councilwomen, the Conservatorship and Treatment Unit would consist of three positions to expand the existing Lifesaving Intervention for Treatment Program under City Attorney Mara Elliott.

A newly hired treatment coordinator would assess individuals and refer them to treatment options, including court appointment of the county public guardian as their conservator. Two deputy city attorneys would coordinate with the offices of the public guardian and public conservator, make referrals and file conservatorship petitions with the court.

"Together with the city attorney's office, we're acting now to prevent San Diego's most vulnerable residents from cycling through our emergency rooms and get them the help they need," von Wilpert said. "While ensuring due process rights for all residents, conservatorships are a humanitarian tool to help those who cannot help themselves, many of whom are living on our streets."

Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers have been working in recent months to expand the state's conservatorship laws to include more homeless individuals with severe mental illness.

Campbell and von Wilpert said their proposal would be effective under existing state conservatorship laws, while also preparing San Diego to step up its efforts to spur court-ordered mental health treatment if Newsom's "Care Court" proposal is adopted.

The Budget Review Committee charged with holding public hearings on Mayor Todd Gloria's proposed $4.89 billion budget will meet through Tuesday and again May 19 before presenting a revised budget later this month for final consideration in mid-June.