[Hpn] SF mental health care called shameful
Mon, 18 Dec 2000 12:53:26 -0700
San Francisco BAY VIEW
December 13, 2000
SF mental health care called shameful
by Michael Lyon
San Francisco - Tuesday¹s Health Commission meeting was taken over by a
militant, disciplined, and thoroughly inspiring demonstration by the
Coalition on Homelessness, which demanded immediate mental health treatment
for all requesting it, and an end to police abuse and murder of mental
illness victims in crisis. It was a striking repudiation of the commission¹s
claim that the Department of Public Health emphasizes primary and
Over 100 COH members and supporters entered the auditorium mid-meeting and
positioned themselves along the walls, singing ³On the __th day of Christmas
the City gave to me² - for example: a five-point restraint, ... three Mitch
Cutz, ... And a Mayor who doesn¹t give a damn!
A speaker then blasted the commission for its part in the shocking state of
mental health in the City and demanded action. Then voices cried out
questions like, ³How many new cases of mental illness come to SFGH Psych
Emergency?² They were answered by other voices crying out, ³Three thousand
³How many people seeking treatment in San Francisco got it?² ³Less than 50
percent!² ³How many homeless died in San Francisco last year?² ³One hundred
eighty nine died, alone, on the streets!²
Speeches were punctuated with choruses of ³Shame! Shame! Shame!² with
fingers pointing at the commission. At times, the floor shook with the
stamping of feet.
The commissioners mostly sat dispassionately with their hands folded in
front of their faces, while Public Health Director Mitch Katz was on the
phone summoning about a dozen police. The demonstration was militant enough
that the Health Commission was unable to re-establish control, yet focused
and disciplined enough that the City could not really say it was a riot.
By maintaining this knife-edge balance, COH demonstrators were able to run
the meeting for about 20 minutes and then file out with no arrests. After
that, police cleared the room, and the commission adjourned for about 40
As they left, COH demonstrators shouted ³We¹ll be back!²
A few facts on mental health in San Francisco from the COH:
€ Last year, less than half of SF residents requesting and qualifying for
mental health treatment got it.
€ In the 00/01 budget year, instead of using City surplus money to fund SF
General Hospital¹s deficit, the City cut millions of dollars from
anticipated revenues for community mental health services.
€ This year in SF jails, 11 percent have persistent and severe mental
illness, yet only 52 percent of assignments for mental illness have resulted
in admissions into the system.
€ Three thousand people with no previous contact with the mental health
system enter SFGH Psychiatric Emergency Services per year.
€ An estimated 2,000-2,700 parents on CAL-Works (welfare for families) and
4,000 individuals on County Adult Assistance need mental health treatment.
€ Thirty to forty percent of San Francisco¹s homeless are mentally ill,
perhaps 5,600 people. Many are veterans. Only 5-15 percent of the mentally
ill are sheltered. Between 1984 to 1996, over half of board and care
facility beds were lost. Since 1993, the SF Police Department has issued
100,000 citations for ³while homeless² offenses, such as sleeping, sitting
and urinating in public.
€ Statewide, San Francisco has the highest rate of 5150s (involuntary
72-hour detention for psychiatric evaluation), yet people released from SFGH
Psych Emergency are often released to the streets because of limited
capacity of Social Services and Mental Health services.
€ One in four police calls in San Francisco involve people in psychiatric
crises or ³acting with bizarre behavior.² Last year the City funded a
project to train all cops in safe and humane ways of responding to
psychiatric crisis calls, which the SFPD has resisted, countering with a
program half devoted to weapons training.
€ ³Stolen Lives,² by the October 22nd Coalition, documents five San
Francisco residents in psychiatric crises who were shot or otherwise killed
by SFPD in the last five years.
Contact: Emergency Coalition to Save Public Health, (415) 540-3644, e-mail
email@example.com, website www.sf-health.org/; Coalition on
Homelessness website www.sfo.com/~coh/
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