Story by Palm Springs Tribune Contributors Eric Gray and Tara Saylin

Palm Springs, CA

True to his word, Chief Andy Mills officially started the Palm Springs Police Department’s new program, Operation Relentless Sun, on February 1st. The program aims to better assist homeless individuals experiencing mental health issues and addiction by providing information on services available, while also honing in on homeless individuals committing crimes who have caused chaos in Palm Springs.

Yesterday, in a social media post, the PSPD gave the community on update on their initial progress. They wrote:

“Operation Relentless Sun” Officially Underway: Over the past few days, PSPD has contacted 143 homeless individuals, in the city of Palm Springs. Our CPO Team and members of Command Staff have been walking known hotspots, continuing our point in time count and identifying those staying at these locations. All but one admitted to being addicted to either methamphetamine, fentanyl or alcohol. As part of this first phase, each person we have contacted so far, has been offered resource material, including pamphlets with information on mental health, substance abuse resources, and emergency shelters. We will continue to follow-up with our unhoused population, in the hopes they will consider seeking out these resources.”

Responses online were mixed, with many in the community responding with positive comments. One commenter wrote, “Huge shout out to our police department!! This has to be a very tough job to tackle, I am grateful that steps are being taken, for them and for the citizens of our city! Thank you all!”

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Others commenters, like Arlene Rosenthal, criticized the lack of resources in Palm Springs, writing, “It would be wonderful if we had the places for them to go once you have visited them but we have no mental health facilities where they can be help with their mental health problems, we have no drug rehab places where we can get them in, and we have no beds for shelter at night. So the needed things to help you in your quest to clean up some of these very apparent eyesores and unhealthy places are not in place. Once we direct our moneys to making those things happen your program will work with your sensitivity and training.” It should be noted that Rosenthal, CEO of Well in the Desert, a non-profit that provides emergency food assistance, came under scrutiny in 2021 by then Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem, Lisa Middleton, over lack of transparency in line items in the budget of Well in the Desert.

Still others were unimpressed with the PSPD passing out pamphlets as part of the outreach, wondering why the department wasn’t doing more to help. Under current state law, the PSPD’s hands are essentially tied. However, in September of 2022, Governor Newsom unveiled the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court to provide additional resources to those who are homeless and suffering from untreated mental illness and substance abuse problems.

According to the CA.gov website: “CARE Court offers court-ordered individualized interventions and services, stabilization medication, advanced mental health directives, and housing assistance – all while remaining community-based. Plans can be up to 12-24 months. In addition to their full clinical team, the client-centered approach also includes a public defender and a supporter to help individuals make self-directed care decisions.”

Riverside County will be among the first in California to implement the program in October of 2023, provided it survives legal challenges by Disability Rights California, Western Center on Law and Poverty, and the Public Interest Law Project, concerned over court-mandated treatment and the use of temporary conservatorships to direct care.

Detailed Information about CARE Court can be found online here:  https://www.gov.ca.gov/2022/03/03/governor-newsom-launches-new-plan-to-help-californians-struggling-with-mental-health-challenges-homelessness/

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