San Francisco leaders applaud new law aimed at addressing homelessness

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A new state law hopes to create a conservatorship program focused on providing housing and social services for homeless people who can't care for themselves.

Homelessness has been an ongoing challenge in San Francisco, even though the homeless population has actually dropped.

According to the Homeless Census, there were 8,600 homeless in 2004-- compared to last year there were 7,500.

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But for many, the homeless crisis appears to be growing. The epidemic of mental illness and severe drug addiction play out on San Francisco city streets every day.

The dire situation is in plain view for residents and tourists.

"They see people who are clearly out of their minds or are high, sometimes scary, sometimes threatening and dangerous," said SF Board of Supervisor Rafael Mandelman.

City and county leaders, including Mayor London Breed, were at the Kelly Cullen Community center this morning speaking on addressing chronic homelessness. One big help they say is SB1045, recently signed by Gov. Brown. The law creates conservatorship for people with severe mental health and substance abuse disorders.

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"We're not just trying to force someone into a situation, this is about helping people get healthy and stabilized," said mayor London Breed.

The law makes it easier for judges to allow a guardian or protector to make decisions for someone deemed incapable of making responsible choices.

"The current conservatorship laws in California are not meeting the needs particularly of people with severe drug addiction," said State Senator Scott Wiener.

The program requires government agencies to provide adequate housing and support services-- resources critics say are already in short supply.

"Our big problem with this is we don't have voluntary services available, and we believe that people should have access to services that they want before they're forced into services," said Jessica Lehman, executive director of Senior and Disability Action. They are part of a coalition of community groups opposed to the expansion of involuntary conservatorship.

Despite the numerous challenges with addressing homelessness, city leaders say they're working with homeless advocates and the department of public health to implement the law.

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