San Francisco pilot program diverts 911 calls about homeless from police to new street crisis team

Lyanne Melendez Image
Wednesday, May 31, 2023
SF launches new street crisis team to respond to homelessness
San Francisco has a new approach in dealing with non-emergency calls involving the homeless. Instead of police, a street crisis team will now respond.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco will take a different approach when dealing with non-emergency calls involving the homeless. Rather than involve police, a street crisis team made up of Urban Alchemy workers will act like first responders.

Think of an urban alchemist as a school hallway monitor. There are about 853 of them scattered throughout areas that need the most attention.

Now the most experienced ones, about 25 people, will be part of a one-year pilot program called HEART, Homeless Engagement Assistance Response Team. People like Louis Hammonds trained in non-emergency situations.

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"We do well in uncomfortable situations," he said. "I 'm comfortable being uncomfortable because I don't see an angry person, I see a hurt person, I don't see a violence, I see trauma and that's what we're going to bring, that kindness that relationship."

This new team is different from the Street Crisis Response Team you already see answering emergency behavioral health calls.

HEART is like the middleman between the person on the street and that crisis team. They will be out from 7 in the morning to 7 p.m. on weekdays and until 3:30 p.m. on weekends.

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But as we've seen in cellphone videos, most of the erratic behavior occurs at night. We asked the mayor why not have HEART responders out on the streets then?

"Let's be honest, we have to make sure the people we're asking to go out there and put their lives out on the line feel safe," she said. "Would you feel safe going out there in the evenings and not having a whole presence of people or day like? Night is challenging."

The HEART program is one of many intended to get people off the streets.

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From 2019 to 2022, San Francisco saw a 15% reduction in the number of unsheltered homeless. The goal for the next five years is to reduce it by 50%.

Despite a large citywide budget deficit, the mayor says the investment in homelessness will continue.

"We're adding 600 shelter beds specifically so that is when folks of Urban Alchemy are out there working with folks, they need to be able to offer people something," added Breed.

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing's budget for 2023 to 2024 will now be a little more than $692 million, an increase of 3% over the previous year.

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