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In the ongoing effort to divert nonviolent 911 and 311 calls from police, San Francisco Mayor London Breed is proposing a second response team that would provide medical or social services to people in need who are living on streets but not experiencing severe mental health crisis.

Breed said in a statement Monday that the proposed wellness response team will work alongside The City’s Street Crisis Response Team, which launched last November and specializes in attending to mental health emergencies. The SCRT deploys paramedics and EMTs from the Fire Department and outreach teams from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

The new Street Wellness Response Team will consist of five pairs with members from both departments who will focus on “well-being checks” including individuals who may be injured or lying down on the street or sleeping. The Mayor’s Office said the new team will work 12-hour shifts out of Fire Department vehicles they can use to provide transportation for individuals if needed.

Officials said in 2019 there were approximately 18,000 calls made to 911 or 311 for well-being checks, also known as welfare or wellness checks. The mayor said that many of those calls do not require police response, adding:

“Many calls to 911 or 311 about someone who appears to need help on our streets don’t require an armed police response, and often the services and care people need would be best provided by a paramedic or outreach worker instead of a police officer.”

The Mayor’s Office said Breed will allocate $9.6 million in her upcoming budget proposal, due June 1, to fund the new effort for the next two years. If the budget is approved with the earmark intact, one team could be launched by the beginning of next year.

Miguel Levya, a Street Crisis Response Team peer counselor, said in a statement that in most cases, the team is able to deescalate tense situations by treating individuals with respect and kindness.

Levya said:

“This offers the best approach for getting them the help they need, and resolving any disturbances that have happened.”

Breed’s announcement comes as The City expands its Street Crisis Response Team with a fourth unit to cover the waterfront, North Beach and Chinatown areas.

Through April of this year, the crisis team has responded to more than 700 calls, with 82 percent routed from 911 dispatchers. About 19 percent of the calls from dispatch were of a “mentally disturbed person.”

Both the street crisis and wellness teams are part of the mayor’s police reform plan imagined in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The plan relies heavily on overhauling mental health services through Mental Health SF, a program championed by supervisors Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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