Why 20 years in the SF system still wasn't enough to solve his homelessness

Why 20 years in the SF system still wasn’t enough to solve his homelessness

Chet Peeples was looking for a fresh start when he arrived in the Bay Area in the early 2000s. He was in his 40s and had racked up a string of felony convictions in his hometown of Memphis, including “attempted robbery, theft armed robbery, aggravated burglary, theft over $10,000 and auto theft,” he told me. There were also multiple hit and run incidents, prescription fraud, addiction to Valium and Klonopin, and multiple suicide attempts.

But Peeples was smart. He managed to land a job with an engineering firm in Walnut Creek in 2002, although his good fortune did not last long. Six months later, he was fired for poor performance, in part due to a crack addiction, he said. Unemployed, he became homeless.

Over time, Peeples added methadone to his narcotic cocktail. He knew he needed help, but for years he roamed sober homes and mental health programs in the Bay Area. During that time, he was placed in involuntary psychiatric treatment twice in Contra Costa County and several times in San Francisco, he said, all for suicide attempts or persistent suicidal thoughts.

In 2012, the chaotic cycle would end. In early spring, he applied to a housing program run by the Progress Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides group housing and biopsychosocial rehabilitation, a model of care that simultaneously treats behavioral, cognitive, and biological disorders in his life. ‘an individual. In November, he moved into a four-bedroom, two-bathroom shared house on the outskirts of Hayes Valley. There, he hoped to be able to leave his past behind.

For a long time it looked like he could. What Peeples didn’t know, however, was that like many homeless, drug addicts and mentally ill people in the area, he was navigating a system that was not equipped to meet his needs. But while San Francisco and other Bay Area cities are often rightly criticized for not doing enough to address the region’s homelessness crisis, Peeples’ story shows how how hard it can be to get someone off the street.

The biopsychosocial rehabilitation, which Peeples would undergo at Progress, is effective for many people with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But there’s little to no evidence that it works for people struggling with “homelessness, substance abuse, personality disorders, problematic behaviors, or an inability to manage their physical needs,” Alex told me. Barnard, assistant professor of sociology at New York University.

Still, for many people in Peeples’ situation, this diet is the best option they have. Without it, they would be homeless and without any mental health treatment.

Peeples described his first six months at Progress as a nightmare for his housemates. He brought his old “street behavior”, as he calls it, into the house, which meant drugs and people on the streets. For their part, some of his roommates were also not easy to live with. One of his roommates suffered from such severe anger issues that, according to Peeples, when he accidentally cut the corner of his roommate’s mail, he flew into a rage.

Despite this chaos, Peeples ultimately took her recovery seriously. He attended counseling and psychotherapy sessions before quitting drugs, he said. He managed to stay in the house for a decade – much of which he spent regaining stability and launching his career as a peer counselor at UCSF before pursuing modeling and acting.

Her story was on track to be one of full recovery. But according to public records, in February Progress filed eviction proceedings against him, centering on an email he sent earlier that month. “(Management) will be remove (one of Peeples’ housemates) tomorrow… Any human who ignores this warning will literally and biblically go to hell. Take it down or I will.

Peeples reportedly followed through on his threats soon after. Twice in one night, Peeples knocked on the bathroom and bedroom door of one of his housemates, brandishing a pipe and a club, according to a temporary restraining order application against Peeples filed by his roommate. The police eventually arrested Peeples.

In March, this roommate obtained a restraining order. In response, Peeples filed restraining orders against two of his housemates, alleging harassment. Court documents showed they had all been approved.

Peeples says his roommates and Progress were plotting to kick him out with doctored stories. (Progress and his housemates declined interview requests.) Regardless, Peeples was kicked out in September.

Where Peeples goes from here and what services the city can offer him is unclear.

He has made significant progress over the past decade, but he still needs additional support. His options, like so many others struggling with mental health issues, seem to be limited to either a treatment approach that there is little evidence it works for someone like him, or the level of care the most severe in the city – one-year, renewable, court-ordered care via a Lanterman-Petris-Short Act mental health conservatorship.

Peeples would never qualify for conservatorship. Courts must find custody applicants so incapacitated that they cannot meet their most basic needs – “severely disabled,” as the courts call it. Peeples is far from this threshold.

What Peeples and probably many others in a similar position might need is a program above biopsychosocial rehabilitation and below guardianship. Barnard, who studies California guardianships, isn’t sure such a program exists.

But if the streets of San Francisco are any indication of the seriousness of the situation in California, there is a latent demand for tougher mental health policies.

In 2018, State Senator Scott Wiener drafted SB1045 (later amended via SB40) to expand guardianship coverage to people like Peeples – the chronically homeless, drug addicts, and severely mentally ill.

But when Governor Jerry Brown signed SB1045 later that year, the bill’s coverage was diluted; it excluded the chronically homeless. Only 50 to 100 additional San Franciscans were eligible for conservatorship under SB1045, and as of this February, the city has flexed only twice the power allowed by that bill.

Maybe guardianship isn’t the best option for Peeples. Many leave the process worse for wear and tear, according to a UCLA study. Thus, the city has infused elements of biopsychosocial rehabilitation into its mental health programs as a restraint.

This solution may work for some. But if a decade in this rehabilitation program and another in programs scattered across the city weren’t enough for Peeples to recover, chances are the city’s response is insufficient.

The state is trying to be creative in filling this void. In September, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB1338, the Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment Act. Next year, family members, first responders and behavioral health care providers will be able to refer serious cases to the civil courts, known as the Care Court, to secure individuals housing and treatment. guardianship type.

But Care Court is not innovative. It serves roughly the same population as the guardianships; Peeples is still stuck between the extremes of the California mental health system.

New York Mayor Eric Adams has just announced his intention to hospitalize homeless people until they are stabilized, even if they do not pose a threat to others. But San Francisco will never be New York. If SB1045 were to be watered down to appease lawmakers, it’s almost certain that the city and state lack the political will to follow in New York’s footsteps.

Maybe that’s a good thing. Compulsory care through guardianships has mixed results; The New York example might be no different. Additionally, San Francisco does not have the infrastructure to support this approach; The number of cases under conservatorship has doubled the specialized mental health beds available for about a decade. Average wait times for these resources have doubled or even quadrupled in recent years, and the state’s pool of psychiatrists is dwindling. Any mental health program that builds on this faulty foundation is doomed to failure.

“The best option (from Peeples),” Barnard said, “may be very accepting, low-barrier housing that will help keep these people off the streets and alive with at least some dignity and support.”

It looks like a single occupancy hotel. These are inexpensive accommodations that, for better or worse, seem to tolerate volatile tenants. But these tenants sometimes find ways to do collateral damage to their neighbors, the manager of an SRO hotel told me months ago.

If Peeples goes the SRO route, his recovery could, again, come at the expense of his neighbors.

It seems Peeples’ luck hasn’t run out since the day he received his acceptance letter from Progress. It only took her a week to transition from Progress to a similar 3-6 month mental health program. He doesn’t know where he will go next.

He wants to make a documentary about his experience in the “homeless industrial complex”. It already has a title: “Hurt People Hurt People”.

The last time I saw Peeples, he handed me rocks he picked up in town. It was portable rock art from the Stone Age, he said. If you soak them in water and look closely, he insisted, you can see drawings of those who lived at that time. I couldn’t see much except spontaneous erosion.

However, he left me with one last truth: we can learn a lot from the past. It remains to be seen whether San Francisco, the wider Bay Area and the state of California can learn from Peeples’ 20 years in the system.

Danny Nguyen is a writer based in San Francisco.

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