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Protesters Shut Down San Francisco Health Commission Meeting Over 'ARF' Psychiatric Beds

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A loud protest over psychiatric beds shut down a Health Commission meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday.

About 100 demonstrators chanting "Save the ARF!" shouted down commission members as they tried to call the meeting to order.

The protesters described themselves as a coalition of activists, workers at the San Francisco Department of Public Health and clients from a facility called "ARF," short for Adult Residential Facility.

Dozens of ARF patients have recently received eviction notices from the city.

Protesters Shut Down SF Health Commission Meeting
Protesters disrupting the SF Health Commission Meeting (CBS)

Five supervisors on Tuesday introduced a resolution at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting asking the health department to rescind the evictions and stop reshuffling the programs.

"Mayor Breed and the Department of Public Health have had over a month to respond to the front line psychiatric nurses, doctors and patients families, that have repeatedly said that shutting down these beds will cause a chain reaction that ends up with more mentally ill people living on the street," said Supervisor Matt Haney.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Supervisor Hillary Ronen and was supported by Supervisors Shamann Walton, Gordon Mar and Sandra Fewer.

"This resolution is an emergency measure asking Mayor Breed and the Department of Public Health to pause these evictions while the Board of Supervisors works to keep the Adult Residential Facility open and funded."

Up until recently, the program at Zuckerberg General Hospital had more than 40 beds available for long term mental health care. But the city has decided to suspend the program.

"Where the f*** are we supposed to go?" asked Marcus Huiseman, an ARF resident. "On the streets? I don't think so."

"To take that away in the city at this time is outrageous and we aren't accepting that," said Sara Shortt a housing activist with the Treatment on Demand Coalition.

An SFDPH spokesperson said it stopped placing patients in the ARF program because state regulators found infractions. And the city couldn't hire enough staffers.

"There are 32 people at the ARF now, none of whom are going to lose their care," said Rachael Kagan, the SFDPH spokesperson. "We are making the management decision to repurpose the vacant beds. So that we can expand Hummingbird and continue to work on the problems at the ARF."

Kagan said the department's plan is for some ARF patients to continue on in the suspended ARF program while others are being reassigned to different mental health programs, including one called "Hummingbird Place," which the department says will likely help more homeless people.

As for the disrupted meeting, James Loyce, the Health Commission President, adjourned it after nearly a half hour of chanting as well as the presentation of a petition with more than 1,000 signatures calling for the department to rescind the relocation notices sent to the residents of ARF.

"We have said more than once we are more than willing to hear from you individually at the microphone," Loyce said. "What we got in response to that is this...I can't do business like this. I just cannot."

"I think he heard us loud and clear," said Jennifer Esteen a psychiatric registered nurse at ARF. "If we wait for the meeting and we wait for the hearing, these people will be displaced."

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