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Friday, February 12, 2016

What's Next for the Sex Offender Treatment Clinic Chased Out of Duboce Triangle?

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2016 at 3:01 PM

clinic.jpg

They’ve got to go somewhere.

Nobody wants Sharper Future, the California-based rehab center for sex offenders, on their block. This week, clinic owners abandoned a bid to move into the vacant space at 100 Church St. citing the neighborhood’s unrestrained (if unsurprising) anger after Hoodline tipped everyone off about it.

But no amount of angry emails or petitions can run Sharper Future clear out of town. The clinic’s clients, all registered sex offenders, are required by law to get regular psychological treatment, many of them for the rest of their lives. Much the same way we can’t legally (or practically) relocate sex offenders to a desert island, we can’t kick out the institutions that service them.

Nor should we really want to, since the idea of sex offenders not getting therapy is a clear net loss for community safety. This has the makings of an intractable problem.

“I’ve been trying to find a place for these people for seven months,” says Ken Colwell, a real estate broker with Paragon Commercial Brokerage. “We looked at maybe 30 sites, and considered 100 others. We did everything we were supposed to with this building, got the green light from the city, and now it’s been taken away at the last minute.”

Colwell is clearly steamed on his clients’ behalf. Sharper Future is actually the perfect tenant in most ways, a successful nonprofit with sound financials, federal funding, and owners (doctors Mary-Perry Miller and Tom Tobin) whom Colwell calls “two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”

But it’s hard to overcome that PR problem.

Sharper Future has been at their current location at 1540 Market Street for nine years. A completely unscientific phone survey of their immediate neighbors revealed no complaints about the clinic or its clients. In fact, most nearby business owners say they had no idea Sharper Future was even there.

But the building will soon be demolished to make way for a 37-story condo tower designed by SCB and Snohetta. Sharper Future has worked out an extension of their current lease through the end of the year—this being San Francisco, construction on the new building isn’t going to start soon anyway — but after that they can’t afford to stay in the neighborhood. The block around Van Ness was a no-man’s land when they first moved in, but now companies like Uber and Caviar are just up the street, and property values are soaring.

Yes, the tech boom is even displacing San Francisco’s sex offenders — or at least those that help them.

It’s already hard enough to find a space with sufficient square footage (8,000 feet or so) and properly zoned for medical treatment for the right price, says Colwell. Throw in neighborhood activism and the hot potato has very few places to land.

Readers of San Francisco’s various news outlets have some suggestions:

“We should [put] these facilities in places like Bayview or West Oakland, where the sex criminal is the least concern,” says one Hoodline commenter.

“Plenty of room in Bayview,” another chimes in.

“They could move to SOMA, the Tenderloin, Hunters Point, lots of places,” suggests another.

“Stick the scumbags in Oakland,” says a KRON4 reader, although use of the handle “Johnny Moron” makes it difficult to tell if this is a serious comment. Sharper Future actually already has an Oakland location .

Why so many would suggest moving the clinic into areas densely populated with children and families, such as Bayview and West Oakland, is a mystery. Unless what they really mean is to hand the problem off to poor black neighborhoods that have less political leverage? “Sure, just stick them in the back of the bus,” Colwell says, disgusted.

The city’s two other certified treatment programs are both located on Market, between Fifth Street and Second Street.

Miller and Tobin (who declined to comment for this story) estimate that Sharper Future’s San Francisco branch serves about 50 regular clients at any given time, all San Francisco residents, some fresh out of prison but many whose offenses were committed decades ago.

The docs told Hoodline that none of their clients are high-risk offenders, since those are remanded to a secure facility in Fresno County. Sharper Future advertises a “group-based, sequenced, psycho-educational curriculum” with “intense cognitive-behavioral interventions focused on relapse prevention.”

Even so, it’s hardly surprising parents would worry. In California, sex offenders are those convicted of rape or other forms of sexual battery, sex crimes against minors, and certain types of pimping. Statutory rape does not require registration on its own.

A sex offender living under supervision may not live within a quarter mile of a grades 1-8 school, but there’s no rule against just being in the same neighborhood as a school, and no rules relevant to parks and playgrounds at all. The proximity of several parks and preschools to 100 Church St. was the foremost neighborhood complaint.

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Adam Brinklow

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