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San Francisco backs new law to intervene with severe homeless population

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“This is a public health issue and needs to be treated as such”

US-HOMELESS-SAN-FRANCISCO Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Board of Supervisors President London Breed and State Senator Scott Wiener held a joint press conference this morning promoting Wiener and Canoga Park Senator Henry Stern’s new bill that, according to the lawmakers, will help save the most troubled of San Francisco’s homeless population from themselves.

Introduced at the start of February, SB 1045 aims to expand the state’s laws about “conservatorship” for the severely disabled:

Existing law provides a procedure for the appointment of a conservator for a person who is determined to be gravely disabled as a result of a mental health disorder or an impairment by chronic alcoholism.

[...This bill] would expand conservatorships to better meet the needs of the most vulnerable individuals who suffer from chronic homelessness accompanied by severe mental illness, drug addiction, repeated commitments, or exceptionally frequent use of emergency medical services.

Under the state’s current conservatorship laws, a court may appoint a person or organization to make decisions for someone too impaired to look after themselves, but the focus of who potentially falls under the state’s authority is fairly narrow.

“Currently, local government’s hands are tied by an old model,” Stern said in a February press release.

SB 1045 would allow counties to expand that authority, including to some of the most troubled, chronically homeless people in cities like San Francisco.

The idea of a court stepping in to reassign a grown adult’s authority over themselves is a queasy one; however, Wiener said at today’s press conference he’s confident he can win over skeptics about the policy in spite of objection on civil rights grounds.

“For a very small percentage of people who can’t take of themselves, who are dying on our streets, they need an additional intervention,” said Wiener.

Speaking in support of the bill, Breed said, “There are far too many hurdles to get people the help they need...Not one organization or city department or family member will be able to achieve this goal, but we must do more.”

As the San Francisco Chronicle previously reported, Breed also announced a bill of her own, one that would transfer authority over conservatorship away from the District Attorney’s Office, declaring, “This is a public health issue and needs to be treated as such.”