San Francisco approves forced treatment for homeless who are mentally ill

This week the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 to pass a law mandating treatment for mentally-ill homeless people. However, the law will only apply to a tiny handful of people who have been repeatedly placed on emergency psychiatric holds. From KPIX5:

After several amendments and compromises, the plan will allow the city to order mental health treatment for those who have been put in an emergency psychiatric hold more than eight times in a year. But those scaled back guidelines would apply to just a handful of San Franciscans.

“It is frustrating that it takes this long to get something this small and this incremental done,” said District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who pushed for the legislation.

“I think whatever population we’re dealing with — whether it’s one or five or 40 — there are clearly people on our streets who need help who are not getting it and are not going to seek it themselves,” Mandelman explained. “And we need the tools to reach out and get them the care they need.”

Mayor London Breed, who was elected on a promise to deal with the homelessness problem in the city, supports the new law:

“Allowing people to continue to suffer on our streets is not acceptable or humane, and I am glad the Board of Supervisors supported our approach to finally make a change,” Breed said in a statement after the vote…

San Francisco struggles with income inequality and a growing number of homeless people — some with disturbing behavior tied to drugs, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. They shuffle from the streets to jail and psychiatric care, unaware they need steady treatment, sometimes dashing into traffic or screaming at strangers…

Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, co-authored state legislation that allows pilot programs in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego counties. He is working on changing that legislation to expand the number of people affected.

“Too many people are deteriorating and dying on San Francisco’s streets, and we have a moral responsibility to help them,” he said in a statement after the vote. “It’s neither progressive nor compassionate to stand by while people die.”

I think we should pause for a moment and just point out that…this statement makes complete sense. It’s just a bit of a surprise to hear this coming from a San Francisco Democrat. What doesn’t make sense is allowing mentally-deranged people to wander the streets, creating danger for themselves and others, and harming local businesses while they shuffle toward an early grave.

The related issue here is drug addiction. Some portion of the people with serious mental problems developed those problems after years of drug and alcohol abuse. Forcing mental health treatment on five people at the end of that line of misery isn’t going to do much for the city or for the much larger group of people heading for a similar fate (all while activists hand out needles). At what point do we decide that stealing to pay for a meth habit is not just another lifestyle choice we should politely ignore?

There’s obviously a pretty serious civil rights issue any time the government steps in to force medical treatment on someone. I’m not suggesting most of the people living on the street need this kind of drastic intervention, but you can walk around just about any city on the west coast at this point and see people that do. As a Californian, I’d support a plan to deal with those people. That doesn’t prevent us from looking at other solutions for those who are (often temporarily) homeless for reasons that have nothing to do with drug abuse or mental illness.