A new transitional housing and treatment program in SoMa aims to help people who struggle with homelessness, mental illness, and addiction, leading them to stints in the criminal justice system.

The facility, part of a lease by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic with help from San Francisco's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, is being built within a vacant hotel, the former Minna Hotel at 509 Minna Street, near the intersection of Sixth Street in SoMa. The hotel has been empty for two years, and will become a new alternative for those who require treatment for addiction recovery but who often end up in jail instead.

As the Chronicle reports, the building has 75 units where people can stay before their trial, as part of their sentencing, or while on probation, and it will be a sober living environment where only methadone and other such drug treatments will be permitted for use. Judges can also mandate participation in the program, and it will cost about $4.6 million a year to operate.

The Health Department and Adult Probation Department will be overseeing the hotel and treatment options together. Other than housing, the program makes resources available to help with certain conditions; for instance, medication like methadone will be available to help those addicted to opioids. Other drug use, however, will be strictly prohibited.

San Francisco’s most recent point-in-time homeless count, which was in 2019, found there were 8,035 unhoused people in the city, 5,180 of whom were not in shelters. That count was almost certainly an under-estimate, and homelessness in the Bay has grown through the pandemic, as NPR reports. A new point-in-time count was conducted in late February 2022, and the data will be released around June.

The Chronicle points out that 41% of people in the city’s jails were homeless last year. Meanwhile, over 50% reported substance abuse, and 12% had a serious mental health diagnosis.

“No one should have to go to jail to get treatment,” says Dr. Lisa Pratt, the director of the Health Department’s jail health service, speaking to the Chronicle. “We will be able to support these people who have these needs coming out of jail in a way that we haven’t had the opportunity to over and over for many people. It’s an exciting — and will be a life-changing — opportunity.”

Some experts have warned the location of the hotel could pose a challenge for the very people it’s meant to help. That area is consistently rife with drug use and sales, along with other crimes. SFist reported on a 16-year-old girl found dead of an apparent overdose in that same block.

Other people have a different mentality about bringing the treatment program to that area. Chief Adult Probation Officer Cristel Tullock, for instance, told reporter Mallory Moench he believes “it’s important to build where the problem is.”

San Francisco has a goal of adding 400 new beds to help the homeless with transitional housing and support, thanks to new reform legislation. That will result in a 20% increase in the City’s residential treatment capacity, the Mayor’s office says. With the 75 beds at the SoMa hotel, the City will have reached 164 total beds.

“This is an unprecedented expansion of our system of care and treatment for people with mental health and substance use disorders,” said Mayor London Breed in a statement. “We are responding with the urgency that this crisis deserves, while saving millions of dollars by removing bottlenecks in the system so that people can move into lower, less costly levels of care when they are ready. Each one of these placement facilities takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to make happen, but we should see the benefits for years to come.”

Photo: Google Streetview