When the Tenderloin Health Clinic announced in January that budget woes were forcing it to close, officials assured clients they would be referred to other agencies. But their fate remains uncertain as city officials and nonprofits figure out how to accommodate the 3,000 poor and homeless people who rely on the clinic for primary care, housing assistance and other services.
“I’m talking to The City, and I know they’re trying to line up providers,” said David Fernandez, the clinic’s executive director. “We’d like things to go a little faster, but obviously we need to do what’s best for our clients. We’re trying to make sure things happen the way they should.”
A closure date has not been set, but Fernandez said staff members were meeting with clients at the clinic’s two Golden Gate Avenue storefronts to give them the bad news.
“They pretty much know what we know,” he said.
The announcement came as a shock to the neighborhood, said Paul Harkin, HIV services manager with Glide, a nearby faith-based social services agency.
“Ideally, you would hope that a contingency plan was unrolled earlier, particularly given the vulnerability of the clients,” Harkin said.
The situation is complicated by the diversity of services the clinic offers. One agency might be able to take over HIV prevention and testing, for example, but others will have to assume the clinic’s primary medical care or the housing of clients.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health said officials could not comment. But Bob Rybicki, a vice president with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said the department contacted his organization this week to ask whether it could take on some clients.
“We’re going back and forth about what’s possible,” Rybicki said.
While the AIDS Foundation is only a few blocks away across Market Street, he said its location might not be accessible for Tenderloin residents.
“Location makes a big difference,” agreed Brian Basinger, founder of the AIDS Housing Alliance. “If you site something where people aren’t comfortable going because everyone is judging them as they’re walking down the street, they’re not going to go there.”
Robert Howard, a 51-year-old homeless resident of the Tenderloin, said the clinic’s closure would be a great loss for the neighborhood.
“We need stuff like this down here,” he said. “All we need is a little help.”
A 42-year-old clinic patient who gave his name as Shinji took a more sanguine view.
“I can’t complain,” he said. “It’s a free clinic.”
Shinji, who declined to give his last name, said that no one had told him where he might get medical care after the clinic closes.