One year and two days ago, I left San Francisco.
I miss it, I really do, but I feel like we made the right decision. (Most of the time.) We decided that although we had a great quality of life in San Francisco, things could be better here, and we seized the opportunity.
But sometimes leaving is much more complicated.
My friends Lupe, Ben, and their daughter Milu have a somewhat different story. Lupe wrote the piece below – and it’s not a nice read. I wish them the best of luck in Sacramento, and I really hope her clients get the help they need.
Lupe wants as many people to read this story as possible. Not all of the news out of San Francisco is about corporate shuttle buses or real estate bidding wars. If this story makes you angry too, then pass it along…
On October 28, 2013, I began working as a Mental Health Specialist for Horizons Unlimited of San Francisco (http://www.horizons-sf.org/). Horizons is a youth development and empowerment organization that has been serving at-risk youth and their families in the Latino and under-served minorities communities since 1965. Up until 2012, the organization had not had the capacity or the funding to meet their clients’ mental health needs. Many of the clients at Horizons are undocumented, and research shows that this population has been traditionally unwilling to pursue mental health treatment.
Being a Latina myself, I empathize with the barriers to treatment that exist within our community, such as limited access to Spanish-speaking and culturally sensitive mental health professionals. That is one of the biggest reasons why I was so excited to begin this position and fully immersed myself in the work.
Due in large part to the cultural connection, my clients at Horizons have had a huge impact on me. My two sisters and I were born here in California, but our parents were undocumented people that migrated here illegally. As with so many who immigrate to the US, their reasoning for putting themselves at risk was the hope that they would be providing us with a better life.
On February 27, 2014, I was fired and given no reason for the termination and immediately escorted off the premises—a humiliating and traumatic experience to say the least. I was fired 8 days after going to City and County of San Francisco and asking questions about the grant that was funding my position. In particular, I wanted to understand how funds were supposed to have been allocated for the grant, as I had evidence that funds were being mismanaged. The Executive Director, Nora Reddick, accused me of going over her head by going to City and County program manager to get clarification on the funding allocation requirements of the grant.
But what tears me apart the most is that I was forced to abandon most of my clients, one of them being 6 years old. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure that my clients transition smoothly when therapy is coming to an end. Abandoning a client without any notice or consideration of their current mental and emotional state could potentially destroy any and all progress made by the client.
Unfortunately, I was only able to contact the clients whose numbers were in my cell phone at the time of my termination. This was only a very small percentage of my caseload. While I was being fired, I pleaded with Nora to please let me finish out my shift. That same evening, I had a client in crisis that I had planned on escorting to a Women’s center, but, after being terminated, not only was I not allowed to escort my client to the center, but I was not permitted to even speak to her and let her know what was happening or find her an alternative staff member to support her urgent need for housing.
I am continuing to see some of my Horizon clients on a weekly basis pro bono. But, as many of you know well, unfortunately San Francisco is an extremely expensive city. My husband, 15-month-old daughter and I are not in the right place financially for us to continue living in San Francisco if I’m not bringing in an income as well. So, the weekend of April 26, Ben, Milu and I will sadly be packing up our belongings and moving to Sacramento. Don’t get me wrong, we are excited to return to the city of trees and to get to spend time with dear friends and with my sister Mari and her girlfriend, Courtney. However, it is also extremely saddening and anxiety-provoking to have to suddenly uproot and leave our lives in San Francisco behind. I feel awful knowing that I will only be able to see these pro bono clients for another couple weeks and that I might not be able to help them transition to new therapists. Unfortunately, finding an organization that provides Spanish-speaking therapy is very difficult, even here in San Francisco.
What is also so very sad is that within two months of me getting fired, there were 3 other amazing and caring individuals also working at Horizons who also stepped forward to advocate for themselves or their clients and were terminated immediately as a result. All of us were fired and subsequently escorted out of the building, being forced to abandon our clients. Equally if not more troubling is that fact that we later learned that this practice has been in place at Horizons since Nora took over as the Horizons Executive Director approximately 16 years ago.
Last night, the San Francisco Mental Health Advisory Board allowed many of us to share our story and alert the Board to the many injustices and the ‘culture of fear’ that are so pervasive at Horizons. We were able to provide strong evidence and first-hand accounts of management abusing staff and clients and being negligent in a number of different critical areas. In addition, we believe that there is evidence to suggest that certain members of management have been systematically misusing and possibly embezzling funds for many years.
I would like to sincerely thank all of the current and former staff and clients from Horizons as well as friends of ours for supporting us in person and in spirit last night. We are trying our hardest to fight this injustice through as many channels as possible, and your support through the difficult time means the world to all of us on this case.
Lupe Rodriguez, LCSW 26961
Mental Health Specialist