San Francisco Launches Education Campaign to Inform Public How to Help People in Crisis

"Okay to Call” is a new public education effort to inform San Franciscans about how to help someone in crisis, what resources are available, and how to access them
September 05, 2023

San Francisco, CA – Today the City announced a new education effort to better support San Francisco’s newly streamlined Coordinated Street Response Program. Starting this week, residents should expect to see the City’s new ‘Okay to Call’ public education messaging in posters, postcards, bus ads, informational videos, and digital ads throughout the City.  

Since November 2020, San Francisco has undergone a multi-year process to dramatically transform how to approach street response to calls for service. The City’s specialized street response teams serve as alternatives to law enforcement and reduce police response to people experiencing a behavioral health crisis on the streets. As a result of these investments, San Francisco has shifted thousands of 911 and non-emergency calls that were previously handled by police to teams of paramedics, social workers, and public health professionals.  

The Coordinated Street Response Program’s new public education program helps the community understand what to do, who to call, and what happens when San Francisco responds to people experiencing a crisis on the streets.  

“San Francisco has significantly expanded our care and street outreach for people experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis on our streets,” said Mayor London Breed. “We are deploying teams that are more efficient and more effective than traditional responses, but a lot of people are looking for guidance on how to call for help. It is vital that the community understands how and when to call 911 and 311 for help, and that they feel empowered to do so.”  

Led by the City’s Department of Emergency Management (DEM), San Francisco’s Coordinated Street Response Program provides multidisciplinary resources that involve many public agencies working closely together. The Program includes specialized street response teams of mental health clinicians, community paramedics, EMTs, social workers, and peer counselors who collaboratively provide compassionate care to those in need on the street. To date, the program has reduced police responses to people experiencing mental and behavioral health emergencies, medical, and wellness issues. This approach underscores San Francisco’s commitment to providing timely and immediate care to those in need through a purposeful and coordinated use of our resources.   

“We want San Franciscans to know that is okay to call when you see someone experiencing a crisis on the streets. The City has made substantial investments in developing and training specialized street response teams that provide timely and coordinated care to people in need,” said DEM Executive Director Mary Ellen Carroll. “If you’re worried about someone’s safety call 9-1-1 for emergencies and one of our highly trained dispatchers will send the right help. For urgent but non-emergency situations contact 311 to get connected to city services and info.”  

9-1-1 is for police, fire, medical, and mental health emergencies including: 

  • Crime  
  • Fire  
  • Overdoses  
  • Medical emergencies  
  • Mental health crises  

A mental health or substance use crisis is a medical emergency. Calling 911 puts you in contact with a trained dispatcher who sends the most appropriate response team for each situation.  

3-1-1 is for non-emergencies, City services, and information including: 

  • Support for unhoused people  
  • Mobility and access issues  
  • Encampments  
  • Street or sidewalk cleaning  
  • Food security programs  
  • Trash can overrun and debris pick-up  
  • Syringes and hazardous waste 

Through San Francisco’s Coordinated Street Response Program, specialized teams trained in trauma informed care, cultural competency, and de-escalation can be deployed as alternative to law enforcement.  

These teams include:  

  • Street Crisis Response Team (SCRT) which operates citywide, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, provides rapid, trauma-informed emergency care to people in acute crisis.   
    • Since its launch in November 2020, SCRT has responded to nearly 27,000 crisis situations and has a 96% response rate for 911 call types that were previously handled by police.  
  • Bridge and Engagement Services Team (BEST) Neighborhoods provide rapid, trauma-informed behavioral health assessment, engagement, and community-based therapeutic interventions.  
    • In the month of August 2023, BEST conducted 575 engagements which have included mental health, substance use disorder, and medical referrals and connections.  
  • Street Overdose Response Team/Post Overdose Engagement Team (SORT/POET) connects with people in the critical moments after they have experienced an overdose.  
    •  Since its launch in August 2021, SORT/POET has responded to over 3,354 people who have experienced an overdose.   
  • The Homeless Engagement Assistance Response Team or HEART provides rapid, compassionate, and structured responses to non-medical, non-emergency involving people experiencing homelessness.   
    • Since its launch in June 2023, the pilot program has responded to more than 2,400 calls — previously handled by law enforcement — facilitating housing and social services and removing barriers that prohibit access for seniors and people with disabilities on sidewalks.  

“We want our residents to know what to do when they see person in crisis on our streets and to be aware of the vital services provided through our multi-department Coordinated Street Response Program,” said Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax. “DPH has the programs to help people recover. Treatment works and it is available for people experiencing mental health and substance use challenges. We want the public to know a simple call just might get someone on the road the recovery.”  

“For over 150 years, our firefighters, community paramedics, paramedics, and EMTs have been there for San Francisco, answering hundreds of calls for help every day. We're committed to providing effective and compassionate assistance whenever it's needed, says Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson. “If you see someone in acute crisis, don't hesitate—call 911. Your call is a vital part of keeping our City and its community members safe."   

The education campaign was developed with the input of dozens of service providers, advocacy groups, and City staff about the resources available to San Franciscans when they see someone experiencing a crisis on the street. The City then worked with San Francisco residents, including seniors, youth, people with disabilities, Spanish, Cantonese, and Filipino speakers, as well as merchants and neighborhood group representatives. 

Understanding their needs shaped the materials into quick and easy-to-understand pieces that can be useful for all San Franciscans.  

Studies show that investment in alternative responders are closely linked to a reduction in hospital visits, incarceration, increased shelter, and help increase services linkages and strengthened professional relationships with clinicians.  

More information about Okay to Call and the Coordinated Street Response Program may be found at