CRF was founded during a time when the State was discharging large numbers of adults from its state hospitals back to their home communities. The state legislature passed the Residential Treatment System Act in 1979, which encouraged development of community-based programs. CRF's first program, Turning Point Crisis Center, opened in 1980 as an alternative to traditional, medical-model psychiatric hospitalization. The program design was a collaborative effort of a small group of professionals and a number of clients with years of experience with psychiatric hospitalization. The outcome of their efforts was crisis residential program model designed to provide acute care in a more normalized, homelike setting than a hospital. CRF now operates a system of six internationally recognized crisis residential programs, known as START programs (Short-Term Acute Residential Treatment).
CRF began providing outpatient mental health care for children and adults in the 1980s and hasn't stopped growing since, adding programs such as the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) in collaboration with NAMI San Diego, vocational clubhouses, ACT teams, transitional residential, school-based counseling, an urgent care walk-in center, as well as mental health and substance abuse treatment for CalWORKs recipients.