Homelessness from San Francisco to Orange County, and window into these times

Good morning, California.

“Whether you’re here for work, play or a little of both, there is something magical about our city.”—San Francisco Mayor London Breed, on a loop at San Francisco International Airport’s international terminal.

A homeless day in City by the Bay

A homeless man on the curb in downtown San Francisco

“San Francisco spends more than $300 million a year fighting homelessness. Yet it’s not working — at least not enough.” 

So begins the San Francisco Chronicle’s opus, a collaboration with KQED and other media outlets, focused on a day in the lives of some of the city’s 9,784 homeless people. To read it—and you should—please click here.

The piece tells the story through the eyes of many homeless people. One is Alex “Shorty” Pierson. He is 36, afflicted with osteogenesis imperfecta since birth, can’t walk, has limited use of his arms, and is addicted to meth.

  • “The drugs, the addiction, are a damper on my life. … You think we want to depend on this stuff? No. Deep down, we really want normal lives.”

Some striking facts:

  • San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s budget is $364 million.
  • San Francisco spends $400 million on behavioral health care.
  • San Francisco’s homeless count increased 17% since 2017.
  • In a single day, 159 homeless people were counted in four downtown BART stations.
  • 1,794 people live in vehicles, a jump of 45% since 2017.
  • At San Francisco International Airport, there were 1,139 contacts with homeless people in a recent count, up from 373 in 2017.

Mentally ill homeless people

Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener authored a bill that would expand conservatorship authority.

A report focused on the care of mentally ill homeless people in San Francisco has implications for the entire state.

San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman requested that the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst study how San Francisco uses or fails to use a 1967 state law establishing when authorities can hold a severely mentally ill person against his or her will.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Heather Knight first reported on the study: San Francisco holds more individuals for short terms, from three to 30 days, than many jurisdictions. But several jurisdictions hold people beyond the 30-day limit by obtaining court-ordered, long-term conservatorships.

Some reasons: 

  • Policy changes that shift services to community treatment.
  • San Francisco has only 241 beds for mentally ill people, a decrease from 359 six years ago. 
  • Wait times for a bed in a nursing home for mentally ill people is 78 days, and 333 days for a bed in a state psychiatric hospital.

Mandelman urged passage of Senate Bill 40, a bill by San Francisco Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener that would expand the authority of officials in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego counties to obtain court-ordered conservatorships of people who are mentally ill and suffering from drug abuse disorder.

  • Mandelman: “It is not a problem that any municipality can solve without action in the state and national capitols.”

A ‘window’ into these times

Yaritza Cordova, a community worker with Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, sorts through mail for the homeless.

Catholic Charities and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph in San Jose took a seemingly simple step by opening “The Window” to help homeless people get their mail.

Santa Clara’s homeless has soared 42% in the past two years. Demand for the services provided at The Window has doubled since 2008. 

Now, about 1,000 people collect their mail there, and many are San Jose State University students, the Bay Area News Group’s Erica Hellerstein reports in a new CalMatters collaboration called The California Divide.

Patrons include Adelle Amador and her husband, Maurice. She cleans houses. He works Levi’s Stadium during football season and fixes cars on the side. They and their six kids have been living in their car and in motels, and searching for a place to live. 

At The Window, they have a steady address to check notices for rentals, to pick up essentials like soap, and maybe a meal.

  • “At least I know I can come here every day and check my mail.”

Orange County homeless crisis

Homelessness has spiked in Orange County.

Orange County’s homeless population has swelled to nearly 7,000, a 43% increase from 2017, Orange County’s Point In Time count shows.

Some details cited the Orange County Register:

  • 8.41% of the people living on the streets on the night of the survey were African-American, though blacks make up only 2.1% of the county’s population.
  • 57.07% were Latinos, though they make up 34.2% of the population.

Assembly Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva, who represents Northern Orange County, is among the legislators focused on the issue, carrying legislation that would:

  • Empower certain areas to declare a shelter crisis and exempt themselves from certain state or local ordinances that could hinder their ability to mitigate the crisis.
  • Establish a temporary housing program for individuals with severe mental illness at the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa.
  • Provide additional funding to housing programs that assist the homeless.

P.S. The city of West Hollywood’s homeless count increased to 131 from 105 in 2017, The Los Angeles Blade writes.

A crisis no new mom expects

Eva Schwartz, a mother from Sacramento

California is a model for maternal health improvement in many ways. But less attention has been paid to new mothers’ postpartum mental health, which can be lethal, CalMatters’ Barbara Harvey reports.

UC Merced and Michigan State University researchers linked nearly one in five postpartum deaths among California women to drug abuse and suicide—psychological crises. 

The death toll was highest, the study found, among socioeconomically disadvantaged women and white women, but data on mental health-related deaths of new mothers is generally scant. 

The issue is gaining lawmakers’ attention:

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a budget bill expanding access to Medi-Cal maternal mental health services from two months to one full year after giving birth, an $8.6 million initiative.
  • Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes, a Riverside Democrat, is pushing legislation for a privately funded pilot program that would provide mental health screenings, psychiatry, teleconsultations and mentoring services to detect and treat new mothers for up to one year after delivery.
  • Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, a San Diego County Democrat, is making maternal mental health a hallmark issue, with one bill taking effect July 1 and another expected to be heard when the Legislature returns in August.

Commentary at CalMatters

Jannee Parker Martin, LeadingAge California: For the first time in history, California’s “grayest generation” will outnumber young children. That’s why Gov. Gavin Newsom’s master plan for aging will be so important.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara is being hammered by allegations that he took campaign contributions from insurance industry sources and favored contributors.

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