When Personal Networks Aren’t Enough

When she was referred to PRC’s Co-op Supported Living Program by a city clinic, Kathy—a 53-year-old Korean-American woman who moved to the US when she was two—was living with and working as her ailing mother’s caregiver. Kathy had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in her late 20’s following methamphetamine use during graduate school. Since then, she’s battled with delusions and paranoia, had bouts of homelessness, and utilized crisis services in San Francisco from 2014 to 2019.

Now, knowing her mother only had months to live, Kathy had been informed she would become homeless once her mother died. The apartment she was living in was provided for her mother. Kathy was an only child with no familial support, and this news ushered in a critical time for Kathy’s continued health and stability.

PRC’s co-op apartments are designed to provide a transitional, supportive environment for people at a short remove from vulnerability, where supportive resources, a little time, and confidence-building practice will equip them to effectively manage their health conditions into the future and take the next steps into health and independence successfully.

Inside PRC’s co-op program, Kathy attended support groups, house meetings, and weekly individual rehab sessions as well as an external skill-building group. She continued to nurse her mother until her mother’s death, and Kathy utilized her new-found supportive community to grieve without utilizing crisis services.

Kathy’s focus and hard work continued to pay off when she was able to apply for and successfully achieve a federal housing voucher in Colorado. After five months in PRC’s co-op, with the help of her case manager and PRC’s community partners Kathy moved out and across the country into her new 2-bedroom apartment.

Given the Bay Area’s high costs of living and dearth of affordable housing options it’s true that taking the next step into independent living and self-driven follow up care is increasingly difficult for co-op residents. Leaving San Francisco can mean leaving one’s support network behind. Housing resources that keep people healthfully in community, like each of PRC’s 111 existing co-op beds, are critical.

Kathy demonstrated insight, resiliency, and self-advocacy that only continued to grow as she received support and stability from all her San Francisco providers. She is a testament to the power of community, partnership, and opportunity, and we, at PRC, are grateful to have been a part of that strength.

Many of us—all of us, I dare say—are touched by struggles with mental health, substance use, or HIV/AIDS whether it’s in our own lives or those of friends and loved ones. But we don’t all have access to supportive resources, money, family, or community networks when they are needed. For those individuals across San Francisco, PRC is that bridge, a lifeline, and the critical link into community.

—CEO Brett Andrews

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Lift UP SF: A win-win-win for San Francisco

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.

Want to know more? Contact our Workforce Development team.
Want to contribute to support innovate solutions, like Lift UP SF? Donate here.
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