SF street team B.E.S.T. helps bring health care, resources to those at risk

Lyanne Melendez Image
Friday, March 29, 2024
SF street team helps bring health care, resources to those at risk
The City of San Francisco's Department of Public Health street team, B.E.S.T., helps bring healthcare and resources to those at risk.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Chris Wallace approaches an unresponsive man sitting on the street and goes into action.

"We check for breathing, check for skin color, make sure there is no overdose happening," he said.

This is street health care in San Francisco.

Wallace deals with people experiencing serious mental illness, as well as chronic and severe substance use.

TAKE ACTION: Get help with addiction, substance abuse issues

He's a field supervisor with B.E.S.T., which stands for Bridge and Engagement Services Team.

"Bringing services to the street is hard but that is what's needed right now to get people engaged with ongoing care," says Kathleen Silk, manager of the program that is part of the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Outreach is what they do best -- walking the streets and offering something in exchange for being heard. In this case, Wallace offers a bag with essential, like water and snacks.

"Anybody in need of a bag? So you guys have talked to us before right?"

That's how he engages people on the streets.

MORE: Medical professionals trying to meet health needs of San Francisco's unhoused

"Really, being able to get on people's level, speak a common language, show a lot of empathy, resilience, recognition for where they were and how far they've come," Silk says.

It doesn't happen overnight. At times it takes several tries just to gain people's trust. Wallace recalls one particular case.

"We had to go out consistently and spend time with her, get to know her," he says.

"How many times?" we asked.

"Oh, this person, I can say easily 30 times," Wallace says.

On Thursday, Wallace and his team have reached out to a group to offer them information on any kind of health services, like the ones offered at Maria X. Martinez Health Resources Center in the South of Market neighborhood.

MORE: San Francisco supervisor calls for 'drug tourism' data to see where users are coming from

But as we stopped to talk to 22-year-old Toran Relyea, it was obvious his drug use was keeping him unhoused.

"I have to take it day by day and finish this challenge first," he told us.

Silk says they've engaged over 8,000 people since launching last March.

But just to clarify, engaging someone may be as simple as giving them information on services and nothing else.

MORE: From clean skate park to 'dangerous' drug market: The different faces of SF's UN Plaza

However, in one year the team says it has helped:

  • 175 people accessed mental health services
  • 130 received substance use treatment
  • 526 received medical services
  • 277 have been placed in shelters

MORE: What is the current and future outlook on tackling SF's drug crisis?

Desean Dixon is one of the success stories with the help of Luis Dorath, another peer counselor.

"He said, 'Bro, you know there are people out here that care about you. There are people out here that want to see you succeed. Like, don't think that the whole world wants to keep you down. There are people who love you, bro,'" Dixon says.

Today he is drug free and in permanent supportive housing.

"It's a testament to everyone in San Francisco that wants to see a change, wants to see or be of service to others," Dorath says.

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