The ambitious Mental Health SF program from supervisors Matt Haney and Hillary Ronen has been integrated into Mayor Breed’s dueling Urgent Care SF proposal, and the compromise measure appears all set to get rubber-stamped in the next week with no ballot measure necessary.
The groundbreaking Mental Health SF proposal to offer free mental health services to anyone who wants them, announced in the spring by Supervisors Ronen and Haney, came with a CEO tax hike and immediately drew Mayor London Breed’s opposition. Breed later wrote up her own similarly named measure called Urgent Care SF, indicating she’d publicly oppose the supes’ tax measure to fund their version on the March 2020 ballot. The two sides hammered out a compromise measure last month, eliminating the need for voter approval, and the San Francisco Examiner reports that version has all its details finalized and will go before the Board of Supervisors next week after a committee vote this week.
The measure will provide a new service center and outreach team to fill the gap for mentally ill people living on the street who may not regularly be accessing treatment. These include uninsured individuals who are suffering from mental illness and substance use who are enrolled in Medi-Cal, or who are released from jail or a hospital stay and waiting for enrollment in Medi-Cal.
The Examiner notes the new compromise measure has the support of all 11 supervisors, so its passage is basically a foregone conclusion. The legislation gets its hearing at the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee this Friday, and is slated for a full Board vote on Tuesday, December 10.
The revised, less-sweeping Mental Health SF would still benefit an estimated 4,000 people living on the street or experiencing mental health issues, so it’s hard to call it “watered down.” With a new price tag of about $150 million, Mental Health SF would establish a new 24-hour Mental Health Services Center for at-risk individuals, with a focus on those just discharged from Zuckerberg General Hospital or jail. The measure would also create a Crisis Response Street Team, similar to the Homeless Outreach Team, and an Office of Coordinated Care to provide case management. The number of additional treatment beds, which has been quite the controversy lately, is still not determined.
Despite the seemingly happy compromise, this measure could still become a political hot potato again. For one, the legislation calls for an 11-member “Implementation Working Group” to manage the whole program, six of them appointed by the board, five of them appointed by the mayor. So there are going to be philosophical differences. Additionally, funding the measure’s reported $150 million price tag may still require a gross receipts tax ballot measure, likely aimed at local corporations and big tech companies.
The Department of Public Health estimates that 4,000 San Franciscans fit the criteria for receiving these benefits, so with an estimated 8,000 people living on the streets (but who knows, maybe double that), this program could make a noticeable difference. But at this point, the measure is more bureaucracy than beds. Until we know many people will be sheltered, its anyone's guess whether Mental Health SF will put a dent in San Francisco's most persistent problems.
Image: Photographing Travis via Flickr