Nob Hill neighbors seek to block mental-health clinic relocation

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Neighbors and boutique hotel operators are worried tourists will be scared by the mental health provider's clients.
IMAGE VIA GOOGLE STREET VIEW

A San Francisco mental-health clinic that has been in operation since 1975 is in danger of shutting down if it can’t find a new place to operate. But its possible relocation to medical offices on Hyde Street, subject to city approval, has prompted neighbors to organize in opposition.

Cindy Gyori, executive director of Hyde Street Community Services, has been scrambling to find a new home for her organization since being hit with the news of a pending rent increase. Its Tenderloin Mental Health Clinic serves about 1,200 clients per year, making it the third-largest outpatient clinic in the city.

Rent in its current space, on Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin, is about to increase to almost double, Gyori said. Larkin Street Youth Services, another service provider in the process of consolidating to a single location, is lined up to rent the entire building. That means the clinic must relocate by Sept. 15, Gyori said.

When she first began the search, “It was impossible to find an adequate space,” she explained. Several possibilities would have required months of renovation, impossible to accomplish given the time constraint. But 815 Hyde Street, a medical office building connected to St. Francis Memorial Hospital, seemed viable. “We’ve really been focusing on moving there,” she said. Negotiations have been underway for several months.

The clinic serves individuals dealing with mental illness, past exposure to trauma, or substance abuse problems, making it just the sort of facility that's needed to stabilize a population that's at risk of homelessness, or in recovery from life on the streets.

But neighborhood resistance to the clinic's planned move is proving to be problematic. “We’re getting pushback from some individuals in the community, who are concerned about our clients, and their behavior, and whether it would be disruptive to the community,” she said. The new facility would be at the Nob Hill intersection of Hyde and Bush streets. A boutique hotel is located nearby, and the area is regularly saturated with tourists.

Hyde Street Community Services is contracted with the San Francisco Department of Public Health to provide care for Central City residents. That means the Health Commission must sign off on any relocation proposal. But at a June 17 committee meeting, health commissioners opted to delay approval in the face of vociferous neighborhood opposition. They directed the nonprofit to hold community meetings about the planned relocation, tabling the vote till July 15.

Robert Garcia, president of Save Our Streets, is organizing neighborhood opposition. “This area, lower Nob Hill, is an historic hotel and apartment district,” he said in an interview. “There are a lot of tourists here.”

He described Save Our Streets as a “not-for-profit neighborhood group” that for years has engaged in “fighting crime, and [fighting] a lot of prostitution.” He added, “We live here. This is our neighborhood. We’re not asking for anything, just trying to protect what belongs to us – and that’s our neighborhood.”

“We just don’t need any more problems here,” Garcia went on. “When they’re bringing in people with behavioral problems, that says something.”

The delay has left Gyori in a bit of limbo. “The time crunch is really problematic,” she said, emphasizing that if the move to 815 Hyde Street does not go as planned, and the clinic cannot find any other options, then it could be forced to shut its doors.

“We want to respond to the community as best we can,” she added. “People said they were afraid they would see streams of shopping carts headed up Hyde Street,” she noted, but sees this notion as a misinformed reaction to the people who congregate on the sidewalk on Golden Gate. “We have to convince the neighborhood people that the people on the street in the Tenderloin aren’t the same as our clients,” she said. “The number one complaint from our clients, mostly, is that they have to run the gauntlet to get through the door,” she added. 

The first of the community meetings will be held tomorrow, June 26, at the Hotel Carlton, 1075 Sutter, from 6:30 to 8pm.

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