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San Francisco mayor seeks to boost funds for Asian victims of crime with limited English skills

Fifty percent of Asian Americans will not seek mental health services due to a language barrier, according to the American Psychological Association.
Mayor London Breed
Mayor London Breed speaks at a news conference at San Francisco City Hall on Feb. 16.Gabrielle Lurie / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images file

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has proposed allocating $500,000 toward services for Asian victims of hate crimes and incidents who are limited in their ability to speak English. 

The investment, announced Thursday, is part of Breed’s newly proposed budget and comes as hate crimes targeting the Asian American community reached unprecedented highs during the pandemic.

San Francisco experienced a 567% increase in reported hate crimes from 2020 to 2021, according to research released this year. Many high-profile attacks have not led to hate crime charges, a report from KQED and The San Francisco Standard showed.

In a Thursday news release, Breed said the San Francisco Police Department has taken steps, including arrests, to “hold people accountable” as hate crimes have risen in the city. But more needs to be done, Breed said.

“While accountability is critical in these cases, it also became clear in talking to many in the community that these victims also need mental health support, which can be difficult for those with language barriers,” Breed said in the release. “Through this funding, we will be getting the support to those who need it, in the way that they are most likely to accept it—that is the key to a victim-centered system.”

The funds in Breed’s proposed budget would be allocated in three ways. The largest chunk of the money — nearly a quarter of a million dollars — would go toward dedicated clinical services in trauma recovery.

Another $160,000 will expand mental health treatment given to victims in Cantonese at Richmond Area Multi-Services Inc., or RAMS. Nearly $60,000 will also be set aside to assist “severely disabled folks” with transportation to medical appointments and social gatherings.

Christina Shea, the deputy chief and director of clinical services at RAMS, told NBC News although the funding is still in its preliminary stages, it’s a step in the right direction.

“Usually mental health services are not even begun to be thought of by the victim, and there is definitely a lot of impact on mental health,” Shea said. “Most of the time, they don’t seek it, or they seek it and don’t get it because service is not there.”

People take part in a protest against Asian hate
People take part in a protest against Asian hate in front of San Francisco City Hall on March 22, 2021.Li Jianguo / Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images file

According to a May report from Stop AAPI Hate, Asian Americans 60 and older who experienced hate incidents reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who had not been targeted. Asian American older adults are more vulnerable to physical assault than younger Asian Americans, the report also found.

San Francisco already has $2.5 million dedicated in part to a citywide chaperone program for older adults, which is intended to proactively prevent violence.

Language barriers and cultural stigma have long stood in the way of Asian Americans seeking mental health services. The American Psychological Association reported that 1 in 2 Asian Americans experiencing mental illness will not seek help due to a language barrier. A 2015 analysis of survey data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed that Asian adults reported the least mental health service use from 2008 to 2012. 

In March, following a sharp rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in New York City during the pandemic, the Asian American Federation launched a mental health directory to help Asian New Yorkers find mental health care through providers who speak their language and understand their distinct cultures.

Sarah Wan, executive director of San Francisco’s Community Youth Center, said in the news release the organization will “uplift any effort that not only destigmatizes but expands mental health services.” 

“During a time when our community is experiencing extreme stress, anxiety, and fear,” Wan said, “supporting culturally competent and in-language support is more critical than ever.”