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Helping those who cannot help themselves

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Mayor Mark Farrell and other city leaders celebrate the opening of the San Francisco Healing Center at St. Mary’s Medical Center. (Courtesy Mayor’s Office)

It is clear that we have a crisis on our streets.

We have people who are struggling mightily — with drug addiction, severe mental illness, homelessness and other grave disabilities. Every day they spend outside suffering is a day they are not receiving the treatment and care they need and deserve.

For years, we have worked to provide critical services for these individuals, but those efforts have been stymied. We have been hampered by narrow conservatorship definitions, difficulties making a case for someone with a grave disability and lack of placements for those suffering from serious mental health issues.

But we have a plan to address this crisis. We are putting together a multifaceted approach that will provide further support for our most at-risk residents and their families, and will improve the quality of life for our businesses, residents and visitors.

SEE RELATED: SF officials support expansion of conservatorships to address homelessness, drug addiction

Our city just launched a new Integrated Care Team, which offers specialized case management for the 40 to 50 residents in San Francisco who most frequently touch our crisis systems, such as mental health services, emergency services, jail and homelessness programs. Comprised of staff from several city departments, the Integrated Care Team tracks each one of these individuals, meeting every two weeks to determine which case management services that will work best for every person, whether that be conservatorships, mental health programs, housing or drug treatment plans.

While our city departments are working more closely than ever, we understand that San Francisco alone cannot address this challenging issue. Cities throughout the state are dealing with the same crisis. That is why I am sponsoring state Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill to expand the definition of conservatorships to help California’s most vulnerable residents.

Conservatorships — cases in which people or organizations care for those who cannot care for themselves — have been hindered in California by narrow definitions of who can be treated. Sen. Wiener’s bill will provide more flexibility for local governments to use the conservatorship system, providing new treatment opportunities for those suffering from chronic homelessness, severe mental illnesses and drug addiction.

We are supporting those legislative efforts with initiatives to expand our resources in San Francisco. Earlier this month, we opened up the San Francisco Healing Center, a new facility at St. Mary’s Medical Center that will double the existing amount of conservatorship beds in San Francisco and make a significant impact for those in crisis. Additionally, last year we opened Hummingbird Place, The City’s first Navigation Center that specifically caters to residents struggling with behavioral challenges.

Our new endeavors are complementing existing efforts, such as Laura’s Law, which I authored. Clients who were referred to services as a result of Laura’s Law were half as likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric episodes following their treatment and saw reductions in incarceration and homelessness. We know this law works — the results speak for themselves.

Like many San Franciscans, my heart breaks when I see individuals struggling and living on our streets. These measures are not about simply moving these people out of the view of the public eye or from neighborhood to neighborhood. We are making serious, concerted efforts to connect our vulnerable residents with the services and support they desperately need.

We are a city of compassion that cares about all its residents. We must help these individuals because it’s the right thing to do. They deserve the right for a fresh start and hope for a healthier future.

Mayor Mark E. Farrell is the 44th Mayor of San Francisco.

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