San Francisco, for all its wealth, is either unwilling or unable to care for its most vulnerable. So argues a SF General psychiatry resident in a recently published op-ed for the Chronicle which calls San Franciscans and our elected officials to task for effectively abandoning the city's mentally ill.
"My first months as a doctor at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital taught me less about medicine than about the profound inequities in this city," writes Dr. Brooke Rosen. "As a new psychiatrist-in-training, I was appalled by the marginalization of patients with mental illness and the scarcity of resources available for them."
She goes on in detail to describe the case of a high-functioning 70-year-old woman suffering from a schizoaffective disorder. The woman was unable to return to her long-term housing due to her condition, yet there were no public facilities that could accommodate her — they were all full. And so the woman languished in the hospital.
So, each afternoon, I averted my gaze as I told the woman that, no, she could not go “home.” Repeating this refrain for weeks, I feebly attempted to empathize: “I know, this must be unbelievably tough for you.” Indignant, she replied, “No! No, you do not know what it’s like to be stuck in here forever, trapped by these hospital walls. Because at the end of each day, you get to go home and I don’t, and you have NO idea what that feels like.”
Her words rendered me speechless. She was right; minutes later I walked out the hospital doors to catch a shuttle back to my safe, comfortable home, her incisive accusations reverberating in my head.
The editorial is a refreshing break for the Chronicle, a paper whose star columnist just last month seriously proposed that we should jail the city's homeless for the crime of sleeping on the street.
"But the city has to do it right," wrote notorious Muni fare-evader C.W. Nevius of how the city should manage those, some of whom no doubt suffer from mental illness and drug addictions, living on our streets. "Citation, follow up, second citation, court appearance and a stay in jail. It cannot be a ho-hum 'we told you to pack up your tent and leave the neighborhood.' ”
The callousness of resident curmudgeon Nevius in glossing over the reality that homelessness and mental illness are often interconnected was perhaps to be expected. His lock-them-up attitude does nothing, however, to address the problems identified by Dr. Rosen.
"Our city, one that attracted me with its ostensible culture of inclusion and activism, has failed to care for its most vulnerable residents," she writes. "We have created a crisis that we can no longer afford — neither morally nor financially — to ignore."
At least someone at the paper seems to have gotten the message — now it's time to see if city officials will run with the momentum exemplified by the SF Homeless Project and do something about it.