When I was in treatment for heroin addiction, I never would have guessed that 33 years later, I would be the CEO of the organization that saved my life.
Homeless and hopeless, I went to a publicly funded program in the Haight-Ashbury called Walden House – now called HealthRIGHT 360. I spent over a year in treatment and when I was well enough, I transitioned to a recovery residence and accessed outpatient treatment. After two years, I rented an apartment with a friend.
My journey was possible because treatment was funded to last until I got better. Over the years, funding for addiction has slowly constricted and today maxes out at 90 days. Clinically, 90 days of residential treatment may be sufficient to begin healing, after which a person can safely return home and continue with outpatient services. This is not an option for people who have no home. The treatment that an individual received to stop using drugs, can be undone instantly.
Proposition C, on the ballot this November, can help by opening up a supply of transitional recovery housing for people who no longer require the intensity of residential treatment but absolutely need a safe place to stay. Free from drugs and alcohol and with on-site peer coaches, transitional recovery housing allows people to participate in outpatient care, maintain a job, and save money to ultimately live independently.
Last year 1,463 San Franciscans came to HealthRIGHT 360 for residential treatment; 94% of the time our clients lived outside before coming in. We welcomed them, washed their clothes, connected them with primary care, and helped them heal. With market-rate housing out of reach and subsidized housing waitlists years long, more than a third of the time we were forced to discharge our clients back into homelessness. Three decades ago, no one was discharged to the street. Not so today.
Since February, San Francisco’s Department of Public Health has been piloting a program at HealthRIGHT 360 that leverages federal dollars to create a treatment continuum with residential and outpatient services paired with transitional recovery housing. This model is working; people are getting healthier at a dramatically reduced cost to the city, but with only 88 transitional recovery housing beds, we can only impact a fraction of the 1,500 people who seek treatment with us annually.
The key to scaling successful projects like this is to fund their development. With Proposition C, San Franciscans get to decide if they want a meaningful investment in services to impact the city’s homelessness crisis in a meaningful way. I urge all San Franciscans to support Prop C.
Vitka Eisen is the CEO of the nonprofit HealthRIGHT 360.