AdviceSan Francisco

What to do When Someone is Having a Mental Health Crisis on the Street

Sign up for the best newsletter EVER!

image from youtube

Justin Keller’s absurd, entitled, whiny, anti-homeless rant got me thinking about this.

Not long ago I was walking near Church and Market and suddenly there was a bunch of hubbub behind me. You know what I’m talking about, it’s not loud and raucous but there’s some kind of disturbance that sets off your Spidey-Sense and makes you turn around.

Just then, a butt naked African-American woman in her 40s, ran by screeching and then went into one of the local businesses. It was obvious from the scene and the way things went down that she wasn’t one of the nudists who hang out in the Castro (or at least used to before Scott Wiener banned it). She was absolutely having a mental health crisis and needed help.

But the question was: who was I supposed to call?

I knew for sure that I didn’t want to call the police. There’s the great quote by Abraham Maslow that says “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” And unfortunately that’s often how it is with the American police. They are trained in ending crisis situations forcefully, but there isn’t enough training in how to deescalate them so that no one gets hurt or killed. While that is in the process of changing as we speak, I’d still rather involve people who already have the training.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the answer then, and as some of the business owners had begun making phone calls, I continued on to my way hoping they did know who to call. But I decided then to find out who I should call next time something like that arises. Below are the answers:

Mobile Crisis Team

The Mobile Crisis Treatment Team is made up of a diverse multidisciplinary staff providing psychiatric crisis intervention services for adults located in the City and County of San Francisco.

Phone number: 415-970-4000


Monday through Friday 8:30 AM to 11 PM (last field visit at 10PM)
Saturdays and Holidays  12 Noon to  8 PM  (last field visit at 7PM)
[Closed Sundays]

Services Provided:
•    Emergency crisis assessment/intervention services conducted in the field
•    Early intervention before situation escalates to critical crisis point
•    Consultation services provided to consumers, housing/support systems, mental health providers, and other concerned parties
•    Assistance with linkage to outpatient mental health services
•    5150 evaluation capacity and determination of appropriate level of care
•    Short-term medication services may be available
•    Spanish, Russian, and Cantonese/Mandarin speaking staff (schedules vary)
•    Available to all adult residents (at least 18 years old), regardless of payer source

As their site says “When 911 isn’t the best option, connect with the Compassionate Response Network”

Also from their site: We are a compassionate social service network that connects people in need to volunteer responders trained in crisis intervention and mediation.Concerned citizens can download our mobile app on iPhone or Android or call us directly to access our services. We make it easy for both witnesses and victims of nonviolent crises to create a report and directly dispatch our network.

We believe that this “Compassionate Response” model is more humane, harm-reducing, and cost-effective than a law enforcement approach to non-violent crises.

You can learn about their Tenderloin pilot program and download the app here.


If it’s not during the hours that the Mobile Crisis Team is open, and it’s not in the Tenderloin (which his where serves) call 311. Explain to them the situation and ask for them to send out the Homelessness Outreach Team.

Are there services that I’m missing? Please let me know in the comments.


Thanks to Jenny Friedenbach and Amy Weiss for giving me this info.

**For those wondering why I included the woman’s ethnicity in the story: It’s because American police shoot black people more often than white people.

Like this article? Make sure to sign up for our mailing list so you never miss a goddamn thing!
Previous post

Dark Anecdotes Of A Dating Idealist: When Your Best Friend Is Dating Your Ex

Next post

Open Letter to Justin Keller

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

I've been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle , "an SF cult hero": SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York, but to those familiar with my work, I'm just "that douchebag who writes books about cheap stuff and drinks a lot".