Mayor London Breed and supervisors Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney announced compromise mental health legislation at City Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF approves fix to mental health crisis, but city officials still working on funding

‘Blueprint’ unanimously backed to transform homeless services

San Francisco’s mayor and the Board of Supervisors came together on Tuesday to unanimously approve a proposal to address the mental health crisis on city streets that is expected to cost at least $100 million a year.

Most of the programs called for under the Mental Health SF legislation will go into effect after two years. Meanwhile, The City must come up with new revenue to fund the effort.

Mental Health SF was the result of negotiations between Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney and Mayor London Breed along with the Department of Public Health.

Ronen called it “our joint commitment to solving our mental crisis on the streets with particular attention paid to the intersections between homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse.” She noted that it calls for “increased beds on every level of the system.”

“With the passage of Mental Health SF, we can keep moving ahead to address the serious mental health and substance use challenges on our city’s streets,” Breed said in a statement. “As we work to reform our entire mental health system, we’ll continue prioritizing the most vulnerable people, and providing targeted services to those who are experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and substance use disorder.”

The legislation calls for a 24/7 mental health service center where people can go for urgent care and receive psychiatric prescription drugs. The center will go in at the department’s existing Behavioral Health Access Center at 1380 Howard St. after significant renovations.

Other components include a 24/7 crisis response team to respond to calls for those experiencing a mental health crisis in public.

An Office of Coordinating Care will better ensure those in need of treatment and case managers are receiving that care, including those who are leaving emergency psychiatric services and the jail.

The proposal, which is expected to apply to some 4,000 people, also calls for a drug sobering center.

The finer details of the effort will remain a work in progress. A 13 member working group, which will have six members appointed by the mayor, six appointed by the Board of Supervisors and one by the city attorney, will begin working on the implementation plan early next year. Breed plans to hire a director for the effort next summer.

“Most other aspects of Mental Health SF, however, cannot move forward until we have identified a long term funding source for the measure,” Ronen said.

Breed’s spokesperson Jeff Cretan said there are several efforts underway to fund the proposal.

That includes a proposed to “move forward a Public Health Bond for the November election to help fund capital costs” and “use the Business Tax Reform Measure being worked on now for the November Election to identify more funding.”

Supervisor Matt Haney called the proposal “a huge win for our city” and the “blueprint for how we are going to face what is really one of the, if not the greatest crisis that we are facing as a city.”

Haney added the residents are “excited” by effort by that say “we will believe in this the most when we see it actually bringing a change on our streets.”

“Mental Health SF is an opportunity to come together and do great things—this time for San Franciscans experiencing homelessness, mental illness and substance use disorders,” Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the Department of Public Health, said in a statement. “An initiative of this magnitude promises to help transform our behavioral health care system.”

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