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California's Controversial Mental Health Courts to Launch in October

Judges will be able to mandate treatment under the new system

The first time Heidi Sweeney began hallucinating, the voices in her head told her Orange County's Huntington Beach was where she would be safe. There, behind the bikini-clad crowds playing volleyball and riding beach cruisers, she slept in homeless encampments, then beside a bush outside a liquor store, where she drank vodka to drown out the din only she could hear.

For years, she refused help, insisting to all who offered, "I'm not sick," until police arrested her for petty theft and public drunkenness. A judge gave her an ultimatum: jail or treatment. She chose treatment.

"I'm so thankful that they did that," said Sweeney, now 52. "I needed that. I think there's others out there that need it, too."

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