In July, GLIDE joined a coalition of 15 agencies across San Francisco to launch the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which coordinates with San Francisco’s law enforcement agencies and its criminal justice system to re-route willing nonviolent offenders from jail to services. With support from a major grant from the Department of Public Health (DPH), GLIDE will be hiring new staff to support LEAD, including outreach workers and case managers. Paul Harkin, who oversees GLIDE’s HIV/Hep C Prevention and Harm Reduction Services, will manage GLIDE’s participation in the pilot program, with help from Harm Reduction’s Janet Ector, who will act as Program Coordinator.
LEAD takes place in the context of a push back in California against the disastrous legacy of the so-called war on drugs, including mass incarceration. Specifically, Proposition 47—passed by voters in November 2014 and actively supported by GLIDE—re-categorized many nonviolent offences from felonies to misdemeanors. Prop 47 required that the money saved in this way be directed to the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), which then makes it available to services-oriented programs such as LEAD. San Francisco and Los Angeles successfully applied for such BSCC funds to pilot LEAD in the two cities.
On the eve of LEAD’s formal roll out on October 26, we spoke with LEAD Program Coordinator Janet Ector about her hopes for the pilot project and the positive effect it’s already having in the Tenderloin and beyond.
What are the hopes and expectations for the LEAD program?
Janet Ector: It’s a pilot project, so its purpose is to gather data to substantiate the claim that recidivism among low-level drug offenders and sex workers can be reduced, and the community as a whole will benefit fiscally and in terms of social uplift, by diverting them into case management services instead of arresting them and locking them into the system—because once you get arrested you’re in the system and you’re on paper. So we want to prove that by diverting them pre-arrest into case management services, we do all that social uplift and all that fiscally responsible savings and we reduce recidivism.
In Seattle, where this program started, they have already demonstrated that the data supports the hoped for outcomes, isn’t that right?
JE: Exactly. They have had a successful LEAD program since 2011.
And if they data is similarly convincing and compelling in California, what happens then?
JE: My hope is that with substantial data it’s easier to get funded and continue the program, especially if it’s successful and especially if you have law enforcement authorities and system-wide authority figures buying into the program and espousing the virtues on a policy level. Never hurts.
What specific role does GLIDE have in this effort?
JE: There are two targeted neighborhoods: the Mission District around 16th Street BART Station and the Tenderloin neighborhood, which they’re saying is around the Civic Center BART station. Any potential participants who meet with law enforcement, and law enforcement decides they’re a LEAD referral, [law enforcement officers] take them to CASC (Community Assessment and Services Center). In the CASC they undergo a screening process by the Department of Public Health assessment screeners, and then the DPH screeners decide if their case, their needs and their situation, warrants a referral to Felton Institute—whose focus is mostly mental health—or to GLIDE. GLIDE will [provide] the case management services. We’ll be the harm reduction team that tracks the client and helps the client meet their needs as they progress through the program.
“GLIDE Harm Reduction gets to teach law enforcement authorities what harm reduction means, demonstrating in real time what it looks like to practice harm reduction in relationship to our population.”
The other thing that we will be doing that I’m really excited about has to do with the nature of the collaborative relationship between law enforcement and GLIDE Harm Reduction. GLIDE Harm Reduction gets to teach law enforcement authorities what harm reduction means, demonstrating in real time what it looks like to practice harm reduction in relationship to our population, which is going to up the level of dignity and respect and compassion with which our population is held and humanize that relationship between law enforcement and our population, hopefully. That is my dream.
So in addition to the people who have the opportunity to benefit directly from the program, the city as a whole stands to benefit from a real cultural shift.
Yes, a cultural shift! It’s a really exciting moment for our community!
I think it falls really beautifully into one of my favorite principles, which is part of GLIDE’s mission statement, and that’s radical inclusivity. The way that plays out for me is just as much on our end, it doesn’t matter which side of the dialectic you’re on. Both sides are coming from so much judgement about the other side, and so much resistance to what it would look like to actually reach across the divide and join forces for the common good. This is that moment when we don’t see a uniform so much as we see a human being who we have an opportunity to educate about what it means to be a resident of the Tenderloin—what it means to be excluded from the social contract, for generations, to never have been included in the social contract in America. And they don’t see this. I get a little teary-eyed about this because it’s very personal for me. We have this rare opportunity to educate them. Not only that, but walk them through it and introduce them to the humanity of the people being hurt by the systems that they’re perpetuating.
You point out something that really struck me about projects like this, and about GLIDE’s mission in general: humanizing works in both directions. You’re offering something to those police officers too. There are rewards on both sides.
Yes. I can’t tell you what a positive reception I get from police officers I’ve interacted with since I’ve been a part of the LEAD project, when we sit down and they tell me what their concerns are and I say, “Wow, I can see that, I understand your perspective.” The body language itself softens, the facial expression softens, there’s this willingness to hold one another that is more and more real.
“We are all human beings together. How are we going to make this work? We can make this work.”
This is who we are; this is what GLIDE is about. At this crossroads, not only in our community but culturally in our country in general, we have a golden opportunity in this moment to build coalitions of humanitarianism and recognize one another as human beings with human rights and civil liberties.
We are all human beings together. How are we going to make this work? We can make this work.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. For one thing, we live in a city that is incredibly expensive. What do you anticipate being some of the obstacles, and I mean the systemic obstacles, in the way of ensuring that people get the help that they need?
I think you’ve named the biggest elephant in the room, of course. The first obstacle is getting the LEAD cops who haven’t been in on all of these wonderful conversations to embrace it. But I’m really confident about how that’s going to unfold. I think that resistance is a puff of smoke on the horizon, it’s nothing. Of course, it’s the biggest issue for our population and especially for the destiny of the Black communities of San Francisco, who are forced into homelessness or SROs or shelters. So the biggest hurdle, I think, is going to be housing, and how the city and city agencies can come together and coalesce around issues of gentrification.
To me, as an analytical thinker, it doesn’t seem like it’s really that hard. There just has to be a willingness on everyone’s part to understand the value of having a non-homogeneous community. If you value having artists in your community, if you value having poets, if you value having musicians, if you value having baristas, if you value having minorities, if you value having farm workers, if you value having people who can’t keep up with this ever-increasing threshold of financial [means], then you have to make room for them in the community. You have to have something like mixed-use housing, or you even buildings or housing that is specifically dedicated to low-income people, because everyone has the right to be housed.
We’re at this moment in our culture where we’ve devalued basic human rights so completely that we’ve forgotten that health care, clean water, food and a safe place to lay your head at night are fundamental human rights. They’re not luxuries that only belong to people who have the capacity, the education and the social background to bring home six-figure salaries. No, these are fundamental human rights and we’ve lost sight of that. We’ve treated our people like they’re trash. That has to be part of the shift. Circling back around to LEAD: [We will be] walking people who haven’t bought into that belief yet through these communities and showing them the human face of these communities—it’s a small step, and it’s minuscule in relationship to the problem. But it’s a step.