San Francisco supported greater investment Tuesday in a homeless outreach team, but officials continue to review ways to reshape services for those on the street, which could include having skilled nurses and yoga in the shelter system.
Supervisor Jane Kim highlighted the need to focus on health services and creating more welcoming environments as city officials have rekindled a debate over how to reduce the homeless population. The board approved $1.3 million in additional funding for the outreach program through the remainder of the fiscal year.
“If we do not address the health issues that are associated with homelessness then we are not going to abolish homelessness in The City,” Kim said.
Illustrating the extent of the health challenges is a January study by the Department of Public Health, which found that of the 6,050 shelter clients in fiscal year 2012-13, nearly 5,000 received some type of medical treatment from the department. Of those seen by heath officials, 2,230 had depression, 2,186 were suffering from drug abuse, 1,909 were suffering from alcohol abuse, and 1,461 were diagnosed with psychosis.
To begin addressing these health conditions more effectively, Kim signaled her support for the creation of a medical respite shelter where those on the street could receive highly skilled treatment for their pressing needs.
“We treat homelessness like it’s just a pure economic issue where people just need a place to sleep for the night while they get back up to get the job they need to get their life going,” Kim said. “But what I encounter in the shelter system is so many individuals that have multiple health barriers, whether physical or mental, that it’s going to be impossible for them to rise out of homelessness until we have real health services in our shelter system.”
In addition to the proposed respite shelter, Kim said that the head of the DPH, Barbara Garcia, has committed to having two skilled nurses in The City’s shelter system.
Another option could be expanding a shelter yoga program, which the supervisor helped launch as a pilot. Such a program is intended to “help support folks to be holistically healthy and to also have activities to do at night,” she said.
The City’s homeless outreach team attempts to bring people into so-called stabilization beds in single-room-occupancy hotels where they can receive optional services. Officials are looking to improve such services, as people have declined them due to conditions of the units, she said.
“They are horrible places,” Kim said in describing some units.
Service discussions are expected to continue as part of The City’s budget process for the fiscal year that begins July 1.