A new program slated to open in September will provide housing for criminal defendants awaiting trial in San Francisco with the goal of steering them towards sobriety and a path to a job.
The SoMa facility located at 226 Sixth St. will offer temporary lodging, along with mental health and job support, to people released from San Francisco jails. Run by Adult Probation, Episcopal Community Services and the Pretrial Diversion Project, the state-funded program will provide up to 30 beds for an initial trial period of one year.
The $483,701 pilot aims to fill a gap for the roughly one-third of people entering the criminal justice system who are homeless, according to Adult Probation. It’s an evolution of a Covid-era effort that used hotel rooms as temporary shelter for people released from jail during the peak of the pandemic.
“We’ll knock on a tent with a cup of coffee and a doughnut and get them ready for court,” said David Mauroff, CEO of the Pretrial Diversion Project. “Detention is not a solution to our housing problem, our mental health problem and our substance abuse problem. The answer lies in partnerships like this.”
The pilot program marked the first such collaboration between the Pretrial Diversion Project and Adult Probation, which work with clients at different stages in the court process. Adult Probation typically deals with clients who are already convicted of crimes, while the Pretrial Diversion Project lobbies for the release of clients once they’re arrested.
According to Cristel Tullock, chief of the Adult Probation Department, that division means clients must follow disparate rehabilitation plans, further complicating the challenging process of re-entering society after a jail term.
“Because we're fragmented, that means that person is having to figure out how to navigate two systems–which doesn't make sense,” said Tullock. “We're using this program as an opportunity to underscore some of the deficiencies that currently exist and to look at how we could retool some of these practices.”
A 2018 ruling in the California Supreme Court found that the state had unconstitutionally detained an unhoused man named Kenneth Humphrey by setting his bail too high. The ruling led to a surge in people released from jail; Mauroff said that his organization’s caseload doubled in the six months following the court decision.
In San Francisco, unhoused people coming out of jail commonly end up in shelters, in single residency occupancy units or back on the streets, where the level of supportive services is minimal and their likelihood of recidivism is higher, according to Mauroff.
“We have usually around 1,400 to 1,600 people on our overall caseload,” said Mauroff. “So you can see how this program is a drop in the bucket in some ways, but an important one, because it has to start somewhere.”
Seventy-eight percent of people involved in the criminal justice system reported struggling with addiction for over 15 years, according to Adult Probation. Over three-quarters of people involved in the pretrial pandemic hotel program reported having substance abuse issues, according to data from the Pretrial Diversion Project.
The pilot program also aims to provide a sober living environment for people who are ready to seek recovery from addiction.
“It's the first time that we've actually sat back as a group and said, hey, what are the needs of people being released from jail,” said Steve Adami, director of Adult Probation’s Reentry Services department.
Editor's Note: The program listed an incorrect address on their website. This story has been updated with the correct information.
David Sjostedt can be reached at [email protected]