We’re proud to introduce a new pathway to personal and economic growth for the thousands of people overcoming mental health, HIV or substance use challenges each year in San Francisco. One of five California programs selected, the Office of Statewide Health Planning will invest nearly $500,000 over two years in PRC’s award winning workforce development model. The result? We’re scaling up a peer-to-peer occupational training pathway recently launched in partnership with San Francisco’s Department of Public Health. Lifting Up Peers for a Brighter Tomorrow or Lift UP SF is a win for consumers, a win for behavioral health services providers, and a win for San Francisco.
Lift UP SF readies consumers—people in and exiting mental health and substance use treatment programs, family members, and caregivers—to put their lived experience to use on a competitive career path. It spans a 64-hour comprehensive training curriculum designed by advocates and consumers, individualized placement support, and peer group services to prepare graduates for volunteer, part-time, and full-time peer positions in the most common health settings: Social and Human Service Assistants, Case Workers, Case Managers, Client Advocates, Family Self-Sufficiency Specialists, and Independent Living Specialists among others.
Leveraging the experience of people with lived experience in mental health, substance use, and public health systems doesn’t just make sense, it’s proven to result in better outcomes for consumers on both sides of the interaction.
Beyond professional skill delivery, peer specialists in health settings share the same vocabulary as those they help, have credibility, and embody an accessible vision of success. Paid or volunteer employment is also a key component of recovery from mental health and substance use disorders, particularly methamphetamine addiction. The act of going to training, getting placed in employment, and accessing a supportive community support throughout this process dramatically improves an individual’s ability to maintain their recovery.
This pathway is timely, right here and right now. San Francisco has very low unemployment (1.9%) overall, but prosperity and stability are not shared equitably across our community. A high cost of living, driven primarily by housing expenses, strains many long-time residents and the populations PRC serves. African Americans and other communities of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, people with disabilities, people with behavioral health disorders, and people living with HIV are overrepresented among the unemployed and have lower than average salaries, placing them at high risk for displacement and homelessness. People with lower incomes also have higher rates of mental health disorders.
It’s a circular argument Lift UP SF seeks to disrupt.
The training program specifically reaches into these under-employed consumer groups to provide more than a living wage. An increasing economic outlook seeds hope, and a career trajectory positions consumers—people like those exiting PRC’s 30/60/90 day treatment programs or in our co-op living around the city—to progress through the continuum of care and transition successfully to independent living.
As a result, not only do we expect to decrease unemployment among Bay Area residents impacted by mental illness, substance use disorder, and/or HIV/AIDS and to expedite treatment program exits making room for more people to access needed treatment services, Lift UP SF will develop a diverse, representative pool of qualified, culturally competent staff to help alleviate the worker shortage in behavioral health settings across San Francisco and beyond. PRC’s program launches with more than 17 partners—from Castro Country Club and the City of San Francisco Community Behavioral Health Services to Native American Health Center, Mission Neighborhood Health Center, and Alameda and Contra Costa County Behavioral Health Programs—already signed on and seeking to fill already identified peer staffing shortages across public mental health services.