Homeless man sitting on a benchIf you’re homeless, mentally ill, and addicted to drugs in San Francisco, you may receive treatment, whether you want to receive it or not. Is this an example of compassion or a violation of civil rights?

In June, 2019, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 to approve a pilot program that would place homeless mentally ill people in conservatorships if they have been involuntarily detained in psychiatric hospitals eight or more times in the previous year.

Proponents of the plan say it helps vulnerable people find much-needed treatment that they may not be able to access on their own. They say that if the people are threats to themselves and others, such measures may improve public safety. Opponents of the plan say while such people need help, conversatorships may lock them into institutions and ensnare them in a system that doesn’t have enough resources to support them.

Regardless of the validity of San Francisco’s program, it is clear that there is a glaring need for some kind of help. Large numbers of homeless people are addicted to drugs or alcohol or have a mental illness, or both. “20-25 percent of people experiencing homelessness suffer from concurrent disorders (severe mental illness and addictions),” according to The Homeless Hub of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.

One study followed eighty-two homeless men with mental illnesses. The study labeled drug addiction as a mental illness and found that 46 percent of the men who were both homeless and drug addicted died within the five years of the study.

Various entities are providing assistance to prevent such tragedies. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) lists services that combat substance abuse and homelessness. The city of New York has supportive housing resources for people in recovery, people who have been incarcerated, and people leaving foster care.

It may be difficult to battle substance abuse, mental illness, and homelessness, but services and programs are helping people fight and win such battles.