By Kiet Do

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has voted unanimously, 5-0, to direct staff to explore options and gather more information on implementing Laura’s Law, also known as conservatorship or Assisted Outpatient Treatment.

“What we’re asking the staff to do was come back to us with a very specific set of strategies to deal with this population so that we can prioritize getting them services and housing,” said Cindy Chavez, Santa Clara County Supervisor.

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Laura’s Law, passed by the state legislature in 2002, allows for court-ordered treatment of people with serious mental illnesses. The patient must have had a history of psychiatric hospitalizations, jailing, and made attempts or threats of violence to themselves or others. Counties must opt-in and authorize the application of Laura’s Law.

In the Bay Area, Marin, Contra Costa, Alameda, and San Mateo Counties have adopted Laura’s Law.

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“What we’re looking at is helping people who don’t have the capacity to make decisions for themselves for whatever reason,” said Chavez, “It’s hard to believe that they would make the choice to be on the streets and be cold and be hungry, be victims of sexual assault, and be victims of violence.”

San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis, a strong proponet of Laura’s Law, came to the Tuesday morning supervisor’s meeting to voice his support for its implementation in the county.

“It’s just a way to help people get off the street, and onto a cycle of regulated medication that they need so they can function like other human beings, and make decisions for themselves. Right now we’re trusting them to make decisions on how to get off the street, and that can’t go forward,” said Khamis.

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Several dozen speakers from a wide range of backgrounds in law, business, mental health and homeless advocacy addressed the board for 90 minutes, with the majority of speakers opposed to the implementation.

Homeless advocates say the county needs more psychiatric beds, shelter capacity, and permanent housing.

“It’s not a question of people not being able to accept treatment. The treatment isn’t there. The treatment isn’t available. You can’t get a psychiatric bed in this county,” said Sandy Perry of CHAM Deliverance Ministries.

“They need domestic violence shelters, they need family shelters, they need navigation centers, and mental health facilities, more rehab centers. When they have those things in place, then come back and talk to us about Laura’s Law,” said Shaunn Cartwright, a homeless advocate.

“We need more support for these people before they decide to go herding them up like animals,” said Sherice Lane, a homeless advocate.

But Councilmember Khamis said specific criteria must be met before someone is taken into conservatorship.

“They have to be homeless, mentally ill, and in trouble with the law to qualify to be part of this tool. It’s a 90 day conservatorship, and these people are proven that they can’t make decisions for themselves. This is not the panacea where they round up all the homeless people. This is not what’s going to happen,” said Khamis.

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The county staff report on Laura’s Law is due January 28, 2020.