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…And Puts Vulnerable Populations at Risk

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Last February, and then again in April, Street Sheet reported about the City’s developing pattern of eliminating services for mentally ill people and diverting the funding for those much-needed services to Care Not Cash.

This is no “policy wonk” dispute: We’re talking life and death here.

The last time program changes such as these took place, they quickly resulted in serious consequences. So serious, in fact, that when their dramatically negative impact on a number of people’s lives was documented and presented to City officials all the way up to the Mayor’s Office, the result was a reversal of policy. More specifically, after actually becoming acquainted with some of the carnage created by this round of alterations in mental health services, City officials swiftly and summarily directed the Department of Human Services (DHS) to change the program back to something that more closely resembled its original intent: providing services to mentally ill adults in San Francisco “based on their unique needs.”

At that point, after six months of documenting the particular decompensations being dealt to disabled people through shifts in services resulting from Care Not Cash implementation issues, everyone seemed to agree: The program design would be revised to ensure that it didn’t pit one group of poor people in need of assistance in the form of disability-related services against another group of predominantly non-disabled poor people who could also use some help—and had their welfare checks to pay for it.

We say everyone seemed to agree because, truly, at the time everyone did. The Mayor’s Office, DHS, staff and clients of the agency, and the Coalition all had input into and signed off on work for the bureaucrats who wanted the Care Not Cash money from clients and the mentally ill people who don’t have it to give.

Unfortunately, it has now become apparent DHS only “seemed” to agree.

In fact, recently, in a move of unbelievable arrogance, DHS again used the bidding process of obtaining and maintaining city contracts to eliminate services to mentally ill people who have relied on the Tenderloin Self Help Center’s (TSHC’s) support for the past 19 years.

No damage assessment based on previous experience (try six months ago!). No discussion with anybody in the Tenderloin community… not the service providers, not any members of the local homeless coordinating board, not even the District 6 Supervisor, Chris Daly. And, of course (as seems mandated by the gods of bureaucracy), also without any discussion whatsoever with either agency staff or the actual clients served.

We’re talking only six months after seeing the undeniable carnage caused by the first program change. And here we are all over again, suddenly in the midst of fighting the same damn battle.

How could people being hospitalized, becoming homeless, and, in one case, dying, not be enough to convince the powers that be at DHS and City Hall that the few services available in our community are vitally important to all of us—that continued access to these services can literally mean the difference between life and death to those who need them most?

Why did the Department of Public Health (DPH), after all these years, even turn this contract over to DHS in the first place? Is disability no longer a health issue? Why does this administration seem to be continuing the previous administration’s policy of pitting community groups against one another in order to maintain control over them? (OK. Never mind that last one. It’s all too obvious.)

We guess the real question is a more basic one—but one whose implications are much more far-reaching: Why do we all, as a society, continue to allow government (at all levels) to treat members of our community who are poor and disabled as worthless burdens, unwelcome demands on resources that could be better used elsewhere, based upon the whim of some freaking bureaucrat’s political agenda?

Maybe because (as we stated last February), in today’s San Francisco homeless policy, CA$H is KING.

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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