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Gerardo Cornejo hit rock bottom a year and half ago. He was living on the streets, had been addicted to drugs –  namely crack cocaine –  for 13 years and had not seen his son and two daughters in months.

A social worker told him that if he ever wanted to see his son, his youngest child, he needed to turn his life around. He was directed to many substance abuse programs, but the one that worked for him was the Mission Council, he said.

Today he is three months away from graduating from the program that he said helped him stay sober for a year, find a job and win joint custody of his son.

“They changed the way I see life,” Cornejo said.

But Cornejo will be one of the program’s last graduates.

The Mission Council on Alcohol Abuse for the Spanish Speaking, established in 1978, will close its doors on June 30, having lost funding from the cash-strapped San Francisco Department of Public Health. The council is one of the the first of many likely casualties as the city struggles to close a $522 million budget gap.

“It’s like they are throwing away 32 years just like that,” said Isaura Reyes, a receptionist at Mission Council.

Despite its name, the council provides a wide range of services. While it works mainly with substance abuse, it also offers programs on anger management and  domestic violence.

The Mission Council has 40 staff members in two branches: 820 Valencia St. focuses on individual counseling and 472 Valencia St. focuses on family counseling. Collectively, they serve about 1,000 people a year, according to Jose Luis Aguirre, the interim executive director.

“I think the city is moving away from funding smaller and mid-size agencies and focusing on the larger ones,” Aguirre said.

Gregg Sass, the chief financial officer for the Department of Public Health, would not comment specifically on why the Mission Council is losing funding.

“I do know that the RFP [request for proposal] process and funding decisions were made very carefully and thoughtfully to make sure that services were preserved to the greatest extent possible — in the context of limited funding,” he said in an email.

Aguirre argued that the $630,000 the Department of Public Health will save by closing the center is nothing compared to how much the city will spend if its patients go to General Hospital instead.

“They are not thinking long term,” Aguirre said.

The council currently receives all its funding from the city except for the client fees in earns from DUI programs, according to Aguirre.

Roberto E. Alfaro, a counselor for 10 years, said his biggest concern is that his clients will not find other bilingual or multicultural services.

“To me, the city is saying they don’t care about the Latino population,” he said about the city’s decision not to renew the council’s funding.

Sources at the Mission Council said they have heard some of their clients would be split between the Iris Center at 333 Valencia St., and Instituto Familiar de la Raza at 2919 Mission St.

Angela Green, the executive director for the Iris Center, which provides counseling to women, said the center would be able to welcome women patients and their families although it would put a strain on the facility.

Others are not as well equipped: Instituto Familiar de la Raza, which deals with health issues generally, currently has a six-month waiting list for some of its programs and doesn’t provide substance abuse counseling.

Some of the Mission Council’s clients said they have tried other programs but found the council’s far more professional and personal.

Kenya Dominguez has been going to the Mission Council for two months for alcohol abuse treatment. She likes it because they treat her with respect and provide child care, she said.

For Dominguez, the Mission Council worked for her because the staff is patient and “understand that you have other things going on in your life, and help you with it. ”

“It’s like a family,” she said. “The judge can tell you to go to a certain place, but if you don’t like it you won’t go. They [Mission Council] make you want to go.”

“I wouldn’t be sober right now if it wasn’t for them,” said Teddy Pinto, who  began going voluntarily to the Mission Council two months ago “It is a place where people know you.”

Pinto said he chose the Mission Council because some of the staffers have known him since he was a teenager.

“How can they close the center?” Pinto asked.” This place is for the families.”

Cornejo, now a volunteer at the council, said other places don’t have the same one-on-one approach. “They treat you like a number” there, he said.

Vanessa Padilla, the program director at Mission Council, agreed, saying that the Mission Council is one of the few programs in San Francisco that does not turn down clients. At the outpatient program some of the counselors have up to 200 cases every year.

Because he felt treated badly at other centers, Cornejo stopped going. He described himself as shy.

When he began going to the Mission Counsel he felt comfortable with the counselors who spoke his language. He felt they had a genuine interest in his well being, he said.

After recovering Cornejo said he began volunteering  because he found knowing others who faced the same challenges had helped him.

“It really helps out the conversation and opening up, ” he said.

Research by the Mission Council last year showed only a ten percent rate of recidivism at the center, according to Aguirre.

Michelle Torrez, who has been sober since she began going to the Mission Council two months ago, said she was upset when she overheard in the lobby that the center was closing.

“I want to go to a bar right now,” she said.

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Rigoberto Hernandez

Rigoberto Hernandez is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He has interned at The Oregonian and The Orange County Register, but prefers to report on the Mission District. In his spare time he can be found riding his bike around the city, going to Giants games and admiring the Stable building.

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  1. I don’t know who this Exell-Mission is but i won’t write a bunch of comments on his reply to MR. Afaro but one word comes to mind describing this exell mission person, IDIOT.

  2. You seem to be offended Mr. Alfaro, please do not take it so close to home, I live near the area too. I was never ever stating that Mission Council and the City of San Francisco were having any (“questionable honesty”) these are your words not mine! The proper use of “quotes” are used to primarily to mark the beginning and end of a passage attributed to another and repeated word for word thus you did not use them properly.
    Also when you start using terms like evidence and court you are implying that there are documents involved which I never did, is there something you know that the public should? What are you hiding Mr. Alfaro that implies any of the above?
    And yes, thanks for your narrow minded view of what recidivism means. You key point that I do not agree with is not every one has to have a “criminal behavior” as you indicated. I also will say again there are plenty of providers that are able and very very willing to take on the clients with dual diagnosis including mental and any other conditions.
    My comments were not unreasonable, if the latino families were in such jeopardy I really doubt the “someone” you are talking about has to be more than one person who decided that the Mission Council did not submit a compelling Request for Proposal to the Department of Public Health, which is a very long process with many people involved. So you have to be silly to think it was “someone”.
    Finally the fact is when you start making this about race you make it political, not us or me. I know this for a fact. In closing in the future you need to use your spell check when submitting to a public forum and use good grammar, and how long have you worked in the field?

  3. The comments that Excell-Mission posted in relation to the closing of Mission Council seem very dangerous and misleading. First, this individual is accusing Mission Council and the City of San Francisco of “questionable honesty” in our bussiness together. Do you have any proof? Sometimes comments like this need to be supported with evidenece in any court.
    Second: Do you know what “recidivism” means? Signify: “A tendency to relapse into a previos condition, especially:relapse into criminal behavior” and no, there are not “plenty” of providers to handle monolingual, spanish speaking individual with dual dignosis: Mental health problems and substance abuse.
    Why waste the time discussing unreasonable comments when the lives of so many latino families are in jeopardy because someone decides that the little money Mission Council was using to save lives can be use in some other fashion or in someone with more political power? We, latinos, need help, not detractor that do not know the reality of the situation.

  4. The comment “I want to go to a bar right now” at the end of the article was a comment that many people in recovery understand. However, for the writer of this article to put in print is another matter all together. In the article the staff sound so committed and wonderful (if so) wouldn’t Ms. Torrez feel compelled to reach out to her counselor at the Mission Council rather than making a statement like the above? I could see why the Mission Council’s recidivism rate is ONLY ten percent by this comment, is the City of SF paying attention to this article as more proof that the Mission Council should close its doors?

    And secondly there are plenty of providers in San Francisco that are capable of handling and willing to provide “Multicultural Services” as Mr. Alfaro is so concerned about, the Mission Council is not the only service in town.

    The bottom line is that the Mission Council did not submit a compelling Request for Proposal to the Department of Public Health and other factors have been rumored around business handlings such as shady business deals the City of San Francisco should not be involved with this sort of non-profit.

  5. Mission Local,

    Please, can you support Latino community and other communities who attending Mission Council to bring under control their addictive behavior. Can you display in your web-space that inverting in alcohol and drug counseling and prevention is not a national luxury or a national choice. It’s a national necessity. There are millons of dollar expending to protect our country from outside enemies. Now, it is the time to protect hour house from the worse enemies that human being has “DRUGS and DEALERS”. Maintaining treatment programs like Mission Council the current young and new generations will never end up on the streets as an alcoholic and/or drug addict.
    Treatment and prevention are all components necessary to address these chronic illness.