A collage depicting someone making a phone call about a homeless person in distress, as well as the emergency responders who may be dispatched to that call.

You Report an Unhoused Person in a Mental Health Crisis. This Is What Happens Next

In San Francisco, it is not uncommon to cross paths with a person experiencing homelessness in the throes of a mental health crisis. The scene can be tragic, confusing and sometimes might feel dangerous.

Bystanders might wonder how to summon help from the city — and what will happen if they do.

We created a flow chart to answer those questions. We show how cases traverse a tangle of pathways, through handoffs between dispatchers and myriad public workers. The person in crisis might spend days or weeks tumbling through the criminal justice system or health care facilities. Often, they return to where they started: the streets.

An illustration of a man watching the arrival of a red van, labelled Street Crisis Response Team — a common scene before people are put on involuntary psychiatric detentions AKA “5150 holds.”

The Often Vicious Cycle Through SF’s Strained Mental Health Care and Detention System

Thousands of people last year fell into San Francisco’s complex, reactive, strained system for treating severe mental health and drug-related crises.

To explain how that system works and its effects on the people who enter it, we begin with the story of one man, Jay. As with many others — including those who are unhoused or are detained without their consent following a call from an alarmed observer — Jay had received temporary care, entailing multiple involuntary psychiatric holds, that failed to address his long-term problems. That left him back on the streets to fend for himself or, with the help of passersby, try again to get the aid he needed.

People stand and sit under and around a white shade structure. There is a table stacked with pizza boxes and other snacks, with three large bundles of bottled water underneath.

Berkeley Says It Was Aggressive in Homeless Encampment Sweeps, Promises Reforms

Berkeley is accelerating plans to more humanely deal with homelessness in the wake of a San Francisco Public Press report on a chaotic encampment raid in October, and city staffers say they will start collaborating with unhoused people and homeless advocates when planning to clean or clear large encampments.

Several city departments are changing procedures in response to complaints from those living in encampments and their advocates, and from residential and commercial neighbors.

Public Records Referenced in Oct. 4 Berkeley Encampment Sweep Article







To initiate a massive encampment sweep at Eight and Harrison streets, Berkeley police and city staff began rousting people living in tents and vehicles shortly after 6 a.m. on Oct. 4.

‘Everything Is Gone, and You Become More Lost’: 12 Hours of Chaos as Berkeley Clears Encampment

In early October, Berkeley police and city officials roused 53 unhoused residents — claiming they were harboring rodents — and seized and destroyed 29 tents and three self-made structures. People begged to retrieve personal items and work tools before the property was tossed into a phalanx of garbage trucks. Four vehicles in which people had been living were towed to impound lots. They would be crushed 15 days later, per the city’s request. 

While some operable cars and RVs were allowed to remain in the neighborhood, and people without vehicles who chose to stay were offered two-person tents, the overall effect of the sweep was that dozens of unhoused people had their belongings taken and their daily existence turned upside down.

A Native American woman in a blue shirt and black jacket sits on a chair in a forested area near a house.

California Indian Tribes Denied Resources for Decades as Federal Acknowledgement Lags

In the last 13 years, the U.S. Department of Interior has actively reviewed applications for acknowledgement of only 18 tribes, even as hundreds remain in line. The Public Press has identified more than 400 tribes seeking federal recognition and is working to confirm that 200 others with publicly listed applications are genuine.

Many have been waiting for decades. The Death Valley TimbiSha Shoshone Band is the only California tribe that has been recognized in the 44 years since the federal acknowledgement process was established.

A man in a plaid shirt holds a fire extinguisher.

Grassroots Nonprofits and Homeless Communities Create Their Own Fire Prevention Solutions

Encampment fires are a fact of life due to the exposed conditions homeless residents live in, but the 77th Avenue Rangers’ camp demonstrates that there’s hope for controlling these incidents without official intervention.

One key to their success has been fire preparedness, including measures like installing smoke alarms and keeping fire extinguishers on hand.

A young Black man stands on a San Francisco sidewalk. Down the sidewalk behind him sit tents and strewn clothing.

SF Fires Linked to Homeless Surged as Pandemic Set In

Fires associated with homeless encampments in San Francisco rose by more than two-thirds during the first year of the pandemic, according to a Public Press analysis of the narrative texts from San Francisco Fire Department reports.

Fires are an ever-present fear for people living on the streets, where an errant spark could send flames ripping through a tent or other temporary shelter, sending its contents quickly up in smoke. Unhoused residents who have suffered through this experience report receiving little of the help available to those assisted after fires in buildings.