S.F. To Dispatch Community Workers Instead Of Police For Homelessness Calls

To dismantle police brutality, San Francisco plans to launch a pilot program that dispatches community workers for low-level 911 calls involving people experiencing homelessness. Advocates believe that this will promote racial justice and spur economic growth. 

San Francisco will launch a year-long pilot program, dispatching community workers instead of police for low-level 911 calls involving homelessness. 

The initiative is 8-12 months out from launch. The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (SFDEM) will be the program’s overarching authority. According to an article by the San Francisco Chronicle, the city wants a non-profit organization to run the program on the ground. So, working out logistics will take a while.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors (SFBOS) set aside $3 million for the program in 2021, so the program has a ready-to-go budget, at least for six months. 

The Compassionate Alternative Response Team, or CART, will respond to “C-priority” 911 calls. These entail situations holding “no present or potential danger to life or property,” according to SFDEM. They will also respond to 311 calls, which reach the city’s customer service center for non-emergency circumstances, like noise complaints or graffiti.  

“The employees of CART are folks that would go through extensive training and also specifically have lived experience of homelessness,” said Tyler Kyser, policy director at the Coalition on Homelessness (COHSF).

In 2020, the Coalition on Homelessness called upon a bundle of community organizations, city agencies, advocates, academics, and unhoused neighbors, to build a framework for a police-limited response to homelessness. Then came CART. 

In building the framework, the alliance conducted a street survey. The group directly asked people experiencing homelessness about responses to heated arguments, drug crises, psychiatric episodes, and even disgruntled business owners, that could prevent harm. 

They also inquired about experiences with police. Thirty-five percent explicitly said they’d had negative interactions with police, from intimidation, to “horrifying and traumatic police violence,” according to a CART report

Those experiencing homelessness disproportionately fall victim to police brutality. A 2015 analysis by The Guardian found that the homeless were 6.5 times more likely to be killed by police than other Americans.

“Racial disparity is a really big part of it,” Kyser said. “Here in San Francisco, black folks make up 3 percent of the population, but they make up 38 percent of the unhoused population.”

CART would “interrupt cycles of harm and violence that [are] all too prevalent when a police response is applied to situations involving an unhoused individual,” another report said. It would alleviate ferocity in a city that ranks well below average regarding nonviolent policing in California. 

Aside from limiting police violence, CART’s implementation could save the city $11 million annually. 

“It’s racial justice, and we’re saving the police and the city money,” Kyser said. 


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