San Francisco May Lock Up Mentally Ill Homeless People

San Francisco authorities are expected to consider a Tuesday proposal that would force mentally ill drug addicts into treatment centers against their will, according to ABC News

Known as conservatorship, the program has the endorsement of Mayor London Breed and others, who say it's a necessary step to deal with often-homeless addicts who may be a danger to themselves or others. The program would allow a court to appoint a public conservator for those who have been involuntarily detained for psychiatric hospitalization at least eight times in a year under section 5150 of California's welfare and institutions code. According to the report, treatment could last for up to a year. So far, San Francisco's public health department has identified 55 individuals who would qualify for the program, and 48 more who have been detained six or seven times. 

Incomes are generally high in San Francisco, where the median price of a home is $1.4 million and median monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit is $3,700. But the city struggles with a growing number of homeless people — some with disturbing street behavior fueled by drugs, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

They shuffle from the streets to jail and psychiatric care, unaware they need steady treatment, sometimes dashing into traffic or screaming at strangers. -ABC News

"Anyone who's been to San Francisco recently, either in our downtown or in the neighborhoods I represent, has seen an alarming number of people who seem to be mentally ill, or in some kind of psychosis, and they seem to be not getting the care that they need," said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who co-sponsored the measure along with state Sen. Scott Wiener (D).

The proposal faces a challenge in the 11-member SF Board of Supervisors, which has been divided on the issue. Not everyone is on board with the idea. Critics say that the measure is a violation of civil rights that runs counter to the liberal city's principles, and that San Francisco lacks the resources to accommodate the sheer number of mentally ill addicts. 

The health department has nearly $400 million budgeted for mental health and substance abuse services - providing help to some 25,000 people in 2018. 

Last year, voters approved a tax on some of the city's wealthiest companies to raise money for homeless and mental health services. And this year, several supervisors are proposing a November ballot measure to guarantee mental health services for everyone.

Jen Flory, a policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Policy, which lobbies on behalf of poor people, said it's no accident that the most expensive cities in California are seeing more people with serious problems on the streets.

Her organization opposes the San Francisco measure, saying there are insufficient services available to make it work. She hopes people are offered outpatient services with fewer restrictions.

"These are very difficult people to house, but what works is to continually try to work with somebody until something works," she said. "We don't know of forced models that work." -ABC News

Watching homeless people mentally deteriorate is heartbreaking, according to Mandelman, who said that the city's merchants "see them going from 'kind of not great' to being in absolute and complete distress."