SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The San Francisco Superior Court judge overseeing California's CARE Court sat down with ABC7 News nearly a month into launch.
"It will be in a context like this. I won't be sitting up elevated above the participants, I'll be sitting at a table, I'm going to avoid wearing a robe," said Superior Court Judge Michael Begert, who says building a relationship is key. "I'm not trying to address the big policy question - I'm trying to work with the person before and see if I can make a difference in their life."
Under the California's CARE Act, everyone from first-responders to family members can petition for people with severe mental illness - like Schizophrenia - to get the help they need. In San Francisco, health officials estimate between 1,000-2,000 people in the city could qualify.
Tara Campbell: "How many petitions have you seen so far?"
Judge Michael Begert: "Today, we have seen five."
Campbell: "Is that what you were expecting?"
Judge Begert: "I tried not to have expectations. I didn't find any of the predictions to very reliable. Most of them related to how many people out there might qualify versus the number of people who are also going to have a petition filed."
Beyond getting people into the court, he says getting people care is another challenge.
"I also run three different treatment courts so I've been dealing with the availability or lack of availability of treatment programs. We don't have enough of these resources available in the community," said the judge.
San Francisco County has about 2,500 mental health and substance use disorder treatment beds and are adding more, but the judge says it's not just about the number.
"This a voluntary program so if I want someone to go and be successful in a program - in a mental health facility - it should be a place they want to stay. It should be a place they are getting better," said Judge Begert, adding people on the streets deserve the help they need.
"This is the most rewarding kind of work that you can do. I mean, the opportunity to feel like you made a difference in another person's life is - I don't think there's a higher reward," he added.
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