~ by Richard Hillard, July 2020
To me, San Francisco Pretrial was a blessing. It came to me as a silver lining when my life hit its rock bottom. I had no shoes under my feet, no warm clothes to cover my body, and no roof over my head. With the pain of losing my wife still fresh and aching, I had come to accept that I was hopeless and helpless, and that was not going to change. Then, I got arrested. And when I was released to Pretrial after the arrest, I finally realized after more than a decade, that there were still people who cared for people like me, that my life was still loved and worth living.
I wasn’t always on the streets; many years ago I also had a home like most people. Prior to 2008, I worked as a service technician, installing and repairing automated gates and commercial doors. It wasn’t much, but we had a good life, my wife and I, in Hayward. We were young; I was only 25 years old. That’s when recession hit. I was charged for a DUI in Hayward, and everything snowballed downhill from there. The company I was working for for more than 10 years tried their best to keep me on, but after one year of economic hardship they had to let me go. Because of that, we lost our home, and started living on the streets of Hayward. I was a professional welder too, but with no physical address and no roof to shelter under, it was impossible for me to find a job.
By the time I was arrested for possession of stolen properties in May 2020, I had been living on the streets of San Francisco for about seven years. On that day, I had been struggling to keep myself warm, to no avail. A person whom I considered a friend, handed me a box of what could have been my saving grace – warm clothes. It felt like biting into crisp bread after days of hunger. But it didn’t last for more than moments. A police car promptly pulled up, and shortly after, I was arrested. The box of clothes turned out to have been stolen by my “friend” out of a car after he broke its window. I had no idea, and in retrospect, he wouldn’t be the type of person I would hang out with if I was indoors as I am now. But the reality is, wrong friendships are also a price of living a transient life.
Being arrested and booked in county jail was stressful, to say the least. It was even more stressful when I didn’t know what was going on. Thankfully, I was released to SF Pretrial, awaiting my court dates. Part of my release conditions was to check in with Pretrial twice a week in person, and participate in daily substance abuse counseling.
More importantly, being a client of Pretrial has made the whole situation a blessing in disguise. My whole life has been changed for the better, and I knew that the moment I was picked up from the jail by my case manager, Tony.
When I think about it now, it is truly an understatement of our relationship just to call Tony my case manager. He is much more than that, and I owe him a great deal. He has been my friend from the very beginning. Tony has done more for me than most people in my life. As a mere stranger, he has gone above and beyond for me, making sure that I was informed of all important information, that I showed up at court, and that I took part in my counseling. When I was still living on the streets after the release, he’d go to places to find me, and walk me to the office himself.
Tony was also one of the staff that advocated for my housing at Pretrial’s new hotel initiative. Getting housed at that time was truly the light at the end of a tunnel, a breath of fresh air. By then, I had been homeless for 12 years. Moving into the hotel, everything was a learning curve. From the lock on the door, to the fan on the ceiling, to the power button on the controller in the TV room… Finally, I had a door to call my own.
The new hotel initiative played a very important role in my recovery and rehabilitation. My counseling program requires daily attendance at very strict hours. When I was on the streets, it was almost impossible to keep appointments; I simply could not follow through. Being on the streets, I was detached from society more than ever.
Now with accommodations and stability of housing, I have made impressive progress in my substance abuse counseling. But it wasn’t without tears and sweat. I was dependent on opioid for almost a decade, and though my addiction tore my finances apart, I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop my downward spiral until life gave me the most painful wakeup call, when last Christmas, my wife passed away from type 1 diabetes.
Thinking about it now still chokes me up. She was my love, and the strongest woman I ever knew. I lost her to deteriorating health, and I realized that I was losing myself to it too. I wasn’t getting any younger, and I wanted to change. I needed help, but I couldn’t get help.
Until I was enrolled in this counseling program through Pretrial as part of my program. Half a milligram by half a milligram, the program has finally helped me battle the monster that had been killing me for a decade. For the first time in years, I gained back my positive outlook in life. I believe in myself again, and in society as well. I am determined to stay on the true and healthy path from now on, and never fall back to those days of darkness.
Within just two and a half months, Pretrial has helped me start a new, brighter and healthier chapter. Without getting arrested and released to Pretrial, I would still be homeless now, sinking deeper into my addiction, losing whatever is left of my hope for life. From accepting that no one was willing to help me, and that never again would I have floors under my feet, I have now come to know first hand that there are still people, like those at Pretrial, who truly care and advocate for me. I am no longer hopeless and helpless. I am full of hope now, and full of aspirations for the future. My case is dismissed on July 23rd, 2020, and I cannot wait to start living this new life that Pretrial has given me.
SF Pretrial is excited to announce 51 new hotel rooms for our clients. We have been fully operational during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have seen firsthand the dangers and detriment clients face when they lack housing in the midst of a public health crisis. Eligibility is based on referrals from the Courts to SF Pretrial’s release and supervision programs.
We’d like to extend special thanks to Adult Probation for funding the rooms and amenities, Tipping Point for a $100,000 grant, and SF New Deal for their donation of restaurant-quality meals that will continue to feed our clients. These new housing units were provided in response to a proposal by the Public Defender, District Attorney, and our agency, and their support for safe and supportive housing for individuals released from jail has been invaluable. SF Pretrial could not adequately serve these clients without funding and support from the Sheriff, Mayor’s Office, Board of Supervisors and our partnerships with the Superior Court, Department of Public Health, Recovery Survival Network and many other community agencies.
Throughout our time working with clients who have been released from jail and await trial, we have seen firsthand the stress and uncertainty that justice involvement creates. These issues are only exacerbated when our clients lack basic resources like housing.
In addition to sustaining shelter and safe hygiene, our new supportive housing units will facilitate individualized client support through onsite case management, support groups, and connections to important community resources. Through SF Pretrial’s partnership with Episcopal Community Services, all of our clients will be interviewed with the goal of situating many of them with a permanent supportive housing solution. By providing a community-based alternative to detention, we can support the reduction of the jail population and focus our efforts on client needs while addressing public safety.
San Francisco Diversion Project
236 8th Street – Business Hours
Monday – Friday, 8:30am – 5:00pm
Assertive Case Management (ACM) Program
Open Hours for Clients
Monday – Friday, 8:30am – 7:00pm, Saturday & Sunday, 10:00am – 2:00pm
Over the past two months, San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project (SF Pretrial) has been operating at full capacity and working with local justice partners to reduce our local jail population. At a time when detention settings pose grave risk to public health, effective community programming has been critical. Through collective efforts, San Francisco’s jail population has decreased by over 400 individuals since February 26. At the same time, SF Pretrial’s caseload volume has increased by 250, amounting to a total client population of 1184. Our most intensive level of supervision, Assertive Case Management (ACM), has grown to an all-time high of 579 clients. As we continue to provide supportive, individualized services, we prioritize safety and security for clients, staff, and the general public. Our response to COVID-19 has required basic operational adjustments to account for social distancing, personal protective equipment, and responsible hygiene practices, and expedient identification of community programs and resources for our most vulnerable clients.
SF Pretrial Client Narrative: Barry
One client in particular has exemplified the unique challenges our justice system faces in addressing health and safety. After spending a month in custody Barry was released to SF Pretrial’s ACM program. When our staff picked him up from the jail, his significant health concerns and underlying conditions came into full focus. In addition to being an elderly gentleman, he divulged that he has back problems and a severe chronic illness. To make matters more complicated, a legal order barred him from returning to his place of residence, meaning he could not retrieve some of his most needed possessions. Barry was left without his wallet, ID, back brace, clothing, and crucial medication for his illness. Moreover, because Barry could not return to his home, he needed immediate housing resources. This client, like many others dealing with the trauma of incarceration, was not immediately amenable to our help. Being prohibited from returning to his residence was a shock and caused him, understandably, to be angry and uncooperative.
In response to these barriers, SF Pretrial staff coordinated with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office to build an action plan. First, the Public Defender’s Office sent a representative to the client’s apartment, who gained access, used FaceTime to navigate the space, and identified which items the client needed. While he waited at our office, SF Pretrial staff developed compassionate rapport, provided food and hygienic products, built a treatment plan, and began searching for available housing options. After hours of work, SF Pretrial identified available SRO housing to ensure this client did not face the prospect of being on the streets. Pretrial staff escorted him to the SRO, carried his luggage, and helped him get acclimated in his new space. In recent days, the judge’s original protective order has been lifted, and Barry can soon return to his home while he awaits his case resolution.
SF Pretrial is proud to partner with the SF Department of Public Works to help keep our city safe, clean and beautiful. Our Project 20 program was recently highlighted as part of their Valentine’s #LoveOurCity campaign. Check out the video and learn about our great work from our very own Devin Jones and Sharon Rose.