The Mental Health Association of San Francisco (MHASF) is a 90% peer-run organization where many of us experienced mental health challenges first hand. We can share stories of being conserved at state hospitals and being chemically and physically restrained to the point of being unable to voice our concerns. This is why we fight for voluntary mental health services.
Some view the forced hospitalization measures of SB 1045 as legislation that will prevent the appalling living conditions shown in PBS’ documentary, “Right to Fail.” In this film, individuals with severe mental health conditions were given the opportunity to live in New York apartments. Instead of community-based, wraparound services, people who lacked the tools for independent living were left to fend for themselves and neglected by mental health professionals.
We at MHASF do not advocate for the mental health outcomes of “Right to Fail.” We do not want San Franciscans living in their own filth as explained by social worker Rachel Rodriguez in the San Francisco Chronicle. At our organization, we want San Francisco’s homeless to be treated with dignity and respect. That means centering their voices in the SB 1045 conversation, and not the voices of people who never experienced severe mental health conditions or the anguish of being locked in a psychiatric unit against their will.
We advocate for equitable access and the right to choose integrated, peer-based mental health treatment that is tailored to a person’s needs. Even during the throes of a mental health crisis, several individuals in “Right to Fail” still communicated their needs. Abraham Clemente wanted to leave his squalid apartment in favor of supportive, communal living. Nestor Bunch aimed to live in an apartment and enjoy the simple pleasures of grocery shopping. Both deserve to be supported in a way that empowers them to pursue their mental health goals.
Involuntary hospitalization can sometimes produce unspeakable trauma. If you were never taken from your community, stripped of your rights, and wondered when you’ll experience freedom again, you may not understand the real-life consequences of SB 1045. At worst, conservatorship is like being a prisoner in your own body. And at best, a fully recovered patient will be released from the hospital with no long-term housing or treatment plan. Even Rodriguez mentioned that there are not enough beds to stabilize people in this city. San Francisco residents dealing with homelessness and severe mental health conditions deserve so much more than this.