Program aims to help mentally ill homeless

An escalated effort to funnel chronic alcoholics and mentally ill people living on The City’s streets could soon find at least 200 newly-chosen homeless persons with a court-appointed legal guardian.

Nearly 1,000 “gravely disabled due to mental illness” people — a majority of which are under the age of 60 and came from the streets, according Ann Hinton, the director of Aging and Adult Services, the department overseeing the program — are already enrolled in the local conservatorship program.

San Francisco’s conservatorship program has two branches, one in which a person has no hope of recovering so a conservator is authorized to make health and financial decisions for a person, said Hinton. The other is the larger program which oversees a person’s mental care.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has made reducing the numbers of homeless persons on The City’s streets a focus of his administration, said entering into a conservatorship was like a family intervention to help someone straighten out their lives.

“They need not just the carrot but they need the stick,” Newsom told The Examiner.

Homeless outreach teams have already been identifying individuals for the program this year, but at least 200 individuals living on the streets could benefit from the program, said Dariush Kayhan, the homelessness policy director for The City.

A mentally ill individual ends up in the program typically after being hospitalized, and through a series of assessments by doctors, psychiatrists and clinicians, a recommendation is made to a judge who then decides whether a conservator is granted to the individual. The conservator can require medications, treatments or entrance into a patient facility.

Every year, the individual’s case is reviewed to determine whether the conservator’s authority should be dissolved, Hinton said.

Belinda Lyons, the executive director of the nonprofit Mental Health Association of San Francisco, called the move “positive.”

Involuntary treatment, however, is an option that’s not as preferable as reaching people “before they get to that place of being gravely disabled,” Lyons said. “Our experience is that people who need and want and are banging the door down voluntarily are not getting [services],” she said.

New efforts are under way to move people from the street into services and programs designed to get them back on their feet, such as the Community Justice Center, which offers “one-stop shopping” for chronic violators of quality-of-life crimes who can have their day in court and also find appropriate social services in the same building.

dsmith@examiner.com

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