SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — San Francisco officials on Tuesday decided to back a plan that allows the city to force people with serious mental illness and drug addiction into treatment without their consent.
Several members of the Board of Supervisors voiced deep concerns Tuesday about the possibility of taking away a person’s civil liberties, but the proposal passed 10-1.
After several amendments and compromises, the plan will allow the city to order mental health treatment for those who have been put in an emergency psychiatric hold more than eight times in a year. But those scaled back guidelines would apply to just a handful of San Franciscans.
“It is frustrating that it takes this long to get something this small and this incremental done,” said District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who pushed for the legislation.
“I think whatever population we’re dealing with — whether it’s one or five or 40 — there are clearly people on our streets who need help who are not getting it and are not going to seek it themselves,” Mandelman explained. “And we need the tools to reach out and get them the care they need.”
What San Francisco Supervisors passed Tuesday was a more narrow version of the conservatorship changes offered by State Senator Scott Wiener. Under those guidelines, perhaps as many as 50 people in San Francisco may have fallen under expanded conservatorship.
A plan of that scope faced strong resistance from some supervisors and many of the city’s homeless advocates.
“Pretty disheartening, when you’re talking about a really serious issue, taking away people’s civil liberties,” said Jennifer Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness. “We want to do something that actually works, that’s not just a fake political move.”
Supervisor Shamann Walton voted no, saying he had heard nothing on how the city would reduce the impact on African American people and other minorities.
One concern was that the city simply doesn’t have enough psychiatric beds for an aggressive program of forced treatment. So this is a finely sliced compromise, aimed at avoiding a potential ballot fight over the issue.
It is a problem isn’t going away.
“I think the good thing is that everyone in City Hall, and our delegation in Sacramento, is pretty aligned in recognizing that we have a huge challenge with mental illness and substance use in our streets,” Mandelman said ahead of the vote. “And we need to take dramatic action to address it.”
The department has budgeted nearly $400 million this year for mental health and substance abuse services and last year provided help to more than 25,000 people.
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.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed has pledged $50 million dollars for more treatment and recovery beds in next year’s budget.