Last year, San Francisco decided to expand its ability to force people who are severely mentally ill and those who are addicted to drugs into treatment. The idea behind introducing court-ordered treatment was to stop the cycle of the most severe cases — “the sickest of the sick” — continually moving and out of the city’s Emergency rooms.
San Francisco’s Homeless Population Tops 8,000
There is no question that San Francisco already has a significant problem with homelessness. The city is finding it difficult to provide services for its current homeless population. Most of its homeless are already living with mental health issues and drug addiction.
Legislation Meant to Apply to Few SF Residents
The legislation was expected to apply only to a small segment of the Golden Gate City’s population. Along with the types of patients mentioned above, another 50-100 people representing a small number among the city’s most vulnerable population, were expected to meet the criteria for court-ordered treatment.
The law has been in effect for a year. To date, no one has been considered for the program. Several public agencies are pointing fingers at each other for the delay in implementing it. The coronavirus pandemic has not helped the situation, either.
Public health officials have said they have the names of approximately 10 people who may qualify for conservatorship (court-ordered treatment). They can’t take any further action because the City Attorney’s Office and the Superior Court must agree on the procedure to file a petition under the new legislation. The Department of Health has said it will support those people under other services in the meantime.
Court Says it is Prepared to Accept Petitions for Treatment
Ken Garcia, speaking on behalf of the court, has said it is ready to accept petitions. None have been filed. Mr. Garcia said that the court is ready to process petitions when they are brought to the court office. He explained that it is not the court’s function to start petitions and that it is unable to do anything until a case is brought before it.
The City Attorney’s Office, for its part, said that it is waiting for the court to approve the process. It stated that this effort has been delayed due to the pandemic.
John Coté, the City Attorney’s spokesperson, explained that his office is working with the court to finalize the procedure. He stated that the City Attorney’s office hopes to have it in place “soon.”
New Law Expands Conservatorship Definition
The new laws expand the definition of “conservatorship” to include people who are addicted to drugs. It also includes those who are severely mentally ill. People in the latter category must have been taken to a 5150 hold (emergency crisis hold) a minimum of eight times. Approximately 630 people are currently in this situation in San Francisco. This figure includes those being treated in residential and outpatient treatment programs.
The program’s critics say that the bar for someone to receive court-ordered treatment is still too high. They point out that there are still more people who are too sick to seek help on their own. The critics also point out that the program’s guarantee that participants will receive housing after completing their treatment is inappropriate in a city like San Francisco which already has an issue with limited housing resources.