San Francisco

San Francisco Pilot Program Aims to Help Homeless in Need of Mental Health, Drug Abuse Services

San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Wednesday announced plans for a new, long-term approach to help get homeless people suffering from mental illness and substance abuse off the streets and into treatment.

According to Breed, the new initiative aims to provide care for nearly 4,000 people -- identified using public health data as having the highest level of service needs and needing specialized solutions for getting healthy.

The care would come through a multi-agency pilot program that would streamline housing and health care and increase access to behavioral health services by expanding hours at the city's Behavioral Health Access Center, located at 1380 Howard St.

Breed said as part of the beginning stage of the initiative, 230 select individuals out of the 4,000 people identified as being most vulnerable will receive immediate care coordination, which includes placing them in permanent supportive housing.

"We know that there's a mental health crisis here in San Francisco," Breed said during a news conference at South of Market Mental Health Services on Harrison Street.

"What I see is something that I've never seen in my lifetime in growing up in the city and that is people who are in serious, serious crisis," she said.

"And the fact is that in San Francisco, the frustration is that we have a lot of resources, we have a lot of dedicated revenues to help support people, but we have discovered that the coordination has to be better, it has to be more efficient," she said.

The initiative seeks to prevent homeless people with severe mental illness and substance abuse issues from being cycled in and out of city jails and emergency rooms and get them the care they need.

"We have to end this cycle, we have to do more and we have to be prepared to make some of the hardest decisions," she said.

According to Dr. Anton Nigusse Bland, San Francisco's newly hired Director of Mental Health Reform, the initiative is heavily based on data gathered by the city's Department of Public Health.

"We looked very closely at who used San Francisco's social and health care services in the most recent fiscal year," he said. "Out of nearly 18,000 people experiencing homeless, we found that close to 4,000 of them also have both a history of serious mental illness and of substance abuse disorder."

Although getting those most in need into treatment voluntarily may be a challenge, Bland said the new pilot program would be "relentless" in keeping track of the individuals.

"We will outreach to them, wherever they are," he said.

Yolanda Morrissette, a recovering addict who was able to overcome her struggles thanks to city services and programs, said that she hopes to serve as an example of someone who can turn their life around despite suffering from mental health and addiction issues.

"They were able to help me get on medication, they were able to get me therapy to get to the root of the problem," she said. "I had a lot of anger issues, depression, suicidal thoughts."

Morrissette said she now lives in a one-bedroom apartment and works full-time as an advocate for mental health.

"I just slowly said I was going to build myself up," she said.

Back in June, city supervisors nearly unanimously passed legislation to implement Senate Bill 1045, allowing for a five-year pilot program to create a new conservatorship program for severely mentally ill people who can't care for themselves and provide housing and treatment.

That program, however, would only target a much smaller population: specifically anyone who's been placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold eight times or more in one year.

Copyright BAYCN - Bay City News
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