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In Brief: Laura’s Law

Tackling the homelessness crisis in Riverside County has been named as a top priority by local officials, including Riverside’s mayor, its city council and county board of supervisors.

Among the programs and initiatives available to California municipalities to address the issue, the Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) Project Act of 2002 was recently added to Riverside’s list of options.

The AOT Project Act, also known as Laura’s Law, was established as a tool that allows a court to order a person to receive assisted outpatient mental health treatment. Until this year, California counties were only given the opportunity to opt in to participate in the program. As of July this year, Laura’s Law was implemented statewide unless counties could give a reason to opt out.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors gave full support in May to implement Laura’s Law in Riverside.

Laura’s Law is a state law that provides community-based AOT to a population of individuals with mental illnesses and who meet strict legal criteria. It is designed to aid and stabilize those affected by severe mental illness who, without support, would remain in situations of homelessness or of harm to themselves or others.

The law was named after Laura Wilcox, a 19-year-old college student in Nevada County who was killed by a person with severe mental illness and who was not compliant with their treatment plan.

In a city council presentation given earlier this year, Deputy City Attorney Mary Hanna presented the program and said an important facet of AOT is that it is not criminal proceedings, but civil. In other counties, it looks like what is typically a six-month treatment plan that is tailored specifically to the individual experiencing severe mental health symptoms by a team of qualified clinicians.

One of the main reasons California counties might opt out of utilizing the program is the concern of cost. Hanna clarified in her presentation that there are several state-funded acts that counties can pull from to financially support Laura’s Law.

“There are a lot of the counties that have Laura’s Law programs who are wholly or partially funded by mental health act money, and there is also Medicaid and SSI money that can be used as appropriate funding,” she said.