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Fight over stolen homeless beds, empty shelters hits SF City Hall

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“These beds are for the sickest among us, the people you and I see on the streets completely on their own.”

The Priscilla Chan And Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital And Trauma Center Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A shell game that’s been moving critical resources for San Francisco’s homeless and mentally ill residents and leaving much-needed shelter beds empty earned City Hall ire on Tuesday, as SF supervisors asked who is behind the weird goings-on at the city’s Department of Public Health (DPH).

All the furor is on account of the Zuckberg San Francisco General Hospital’s Behavioral Health Center, part of the wing of the hospital that provides “psychotherapy, psychiatric medication consultation to primary care providers, and social service intervention and linkage.”

Patients with serious mental health challenges may stay at the center for weeks or even years to receive long-term treatment. In many cases, this is the only thing preventing these patients from becoming homeless.

But for reasons that are still hazy, over 40 beds from the health center are sitting empty, and in August Mission Local broke a series of stories revealing plans to seize beds from the hospital for use in homeless Navigation Centers—essentially converting long-term housing for the homeless into short-term homeless housing instead.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, district nine Supervisor Hillary Ronen, whose district includes SF General, was spitting mad about the mattress shuffle and, alongside Supervisor Matt Haney, ordered a City Hall hearing “in the next two to three weeks” to shake out guilty parties.

Ronen called the shifting of mental health resources a “shocking decision to remove 41 out of the 55 beds at the adult residential facility, the only city providing long-term care for several mentally ill people at our city.”

Citing the “deeply troubling mental health crisis that we see on our streets,” Ronen opined “these [beds] are for the sickest among us, the people you and I see on the streets completely on their own” otherwise, accusing city organs of “nibbling around the edges” of of the homeless crisis.

Ronen and Haney want decision makers from DPH and the Department of Human Resources called onto the carpet to explain the still mostly mysterious decision to stop admitting patients to the hospital facility and to attempt to move the beds elsewhere.

Earlier in the day, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman also took on the brewing fracas but struck a much more conciliatory tone, noting that the hospital has suffered “staffing issues” and saying “I believe DPH staff when they say they’ve been trying—they need to try harder.”

Mandelman moved that DPH “bring all 55 beds online” but proposed a deadline of 2021 to do it, an said that in the coming weeks “the department should present to the board a report on the barriers” to keeping the clinic fully operational.

On Wednesday, less than 24 hours after city lawmakers publicly stewed over the effects of mental health neglect on the city’s homeless, Mayor London Breed announced that the city’s “230 most vulnerable behavioral health clients experiencing homelessness will immediately begin receiving enhanced care coordination [...] to streamline housing and healthcare” as part of a new pilot program.

That includes assigning the program participants with “care coordinators” to help them access city services and boosting hours at the city’s Behavioral Health Access Center on Howard Street.

The announcement did not specifically cite the problems at SF General, but the mayor’s office was quick to cite spending “funding will support over 100 additional behavioral health treatment and recovery beds at multiple different levels of treatment.”