SF Moving to Open Homeless Psych Services in Tenderloin

by on September 17, 2019

Typical crowd in front of SF-owned building in Tenderloin

What Happened to Spreading Services Citywide?

San Francisco officials are working behind the scenes to open a new psychiatric respite facility in the city for unhoused people with mental disabilities and/or drug-addictions. And once again the city is targeting the Tenderloin, ignoring Matt Haney’s Board of Supervisor’s resolution requiring the spreading of services to all supervisor districts.

I have seen this script so many times before.

It previously led to the rapid conversion of the former headquarters of the San Francisco Fire Department on Golden Gate near Hyde into a family shelter. And the conversion of a law office on the 400 block of Turk into a methadone center. And it would have led to the conversion of SF Housing Authority offices into a homeless Navigation Center had the community not publicly rebelled at yet another siting of homeless services in an already saturated neighborhood (a similar rebellion stopped the opening of a homeless shelter in the KGO building at Golden Gate and Hyde in 1990)

These sites were slated for conversion to homeless services despite all providing office space in a neighborhood that bans new office development. A neighborhood with an acute office space shortage.

If these buildings were in other neighborhoods, the city would have deemed their office uses as rendering them inappropriate for conversion to homeless services. But San Francisco has long treated the Tenderloin by a separate set of rules. This means anything goes when it comes to targeting services in the neighborhood.

This new plan is driven by a $3 million donation from the nonprofit group, Tipping Point. Although that  provides only 18 months of operating costs, it has pushed city efforts to get a new respite facility open.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “No location has been specified for the new beds, but Daniel Lurie, CEO and founder of the charity, said it could be ‘close to downtown,’ like in the Tenderloin or South of Market — neighborhoods where a majority of the city’s homeless services are already concentrated.”

Lurie went on to say, “‘This is an urgent need,’ he said, adding that he hopes to pin down a site by January. “We want to move quickly, and the city wants to move quickly.”

When we hear people talking about quickly opening a new psych facility for mentally ill and drug-addicted homeless people, it is a clear giveaway that the facility is slated for the Tenderloin or near Sixth Street. Supervisors would be afraid to provide so little time for “community input” in the city’s many  gentrified neighborhoods.

The quickest strategy is for the city to simply expand an existing facility like Hummingbird. But it seems the city prefers to get away with rushing to open a new operation in the already service-saturated Tenderloin.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen wants action on the mental health crisis but no way would she ask Bernal Heights residents to accept such a facility. Board President Norman Yee told the SF Chronicle in 2016 that he “can’t think of any” sites in D7 suitable for new homeless centers: Yee said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate to have it next to a business for families and children.”

Of course, homeless services are allowed to open next to businesses serving children throughout the Tenderloin.  But when a city treats low-income people with a lower level of concern, these distinctions become policy.

I could go district by district identifying sites that could offer homeless services. But the bottom line is that other than in D10, even supervisors that say they want Navigation Centers/homeless services in their districts do not get their fair share.

That’s why city officials were looking at Tenderloin sites last week. They know better than to even ask a Supervisor from any district outside D6 to accept such a facility. This is true even though the psych facility is desperately needed and could operate in many commercial buildings throughout the city.

And please don’t argue that Tenderloin folks have to accept the saturation of services to “prove” their support for the unhoused and disabled. The Tenderloin has proved that for years by accepting services on almost every block. It’s time for the rest of the city to “prove” they care about the most vulnerable by accepting services in their neighborhoods.

“Where Homeless Services are Concentrated”

Tipping Point’s Lurie raises the troubling argument that the city’s success at saturating the Tenderloin with homeless services means this process should continue. I find this argument obscene.

It says that the Tenderloin’s low-income residents, the people I’ve spent nearly forty years fighting to ensure still have a place to live in San Francisco, live disposal lives. It says that acute homeless services like a psych facility have no negative impacts on surrounding residents, even though most San Francisco neighborhoods have not a single homeless service facility. They have no facilities because residents fear t negative impacts.

We can talk about all the danger caused by cars in the Tenderloin but the far more pervasive trauma and health risk to its children comes from constant exposure to the drug dealing on sidewalks. San Francisco’s historic use of the Tenderloin as a containment zone for illegal drug activities also applies to targeting a disproportionate level of services to this 31 block historic neighborhood.

Every time a new service is targeted to the Tenderloin city officials claim it will actually improve the neighborhood. Bullshit! It such services helped neighborhoods supervisors would be lining up to get their share

A former Tenderloin Police Captain cited the methadone center on Turk as a huge factor in the increase of sidewalk drug sales; because the center has a security guard it was claimed it would help the neighborhood.

The city’s demand that the Tenderloin accept activities other neighborhoods will not also applies to the pedestrian fatality crisis. As I describe in The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco, City Hall intentionally turned the Tenderloin into a speedway in the 1950’s by creating one-way streets and eliminating its cable cars. Just as the Tenderloin is still used by the city to house services other neighborhoods will not easily accept, the Tenderloin became the place where the city directed high-speed traffic to cross the city and reach downtown/Union Square.

It should now be clear why the supervisors all backed Matt Haney’s resolution requiring the spreading of services throughout all districts. They knew it would be ignored.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. He is the Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which he co-founded and opened in February 1980.


Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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