WHAT NUMBER should a San Francisco resident call when they see someone having a crisis on the streets — 911 or 311?  

For crimes, fires, overdoses, medical emergencies and mental health crises, the right number to call is 911, while 311 is for urgent but non-emergency situations, said city officials.

In a new campaign called “Okay to Call ,” the city of San Francisco is informing residents on when it is appropriate to call 911 versus utilizing other resources in times of crisis. 

Following the campaign’s launch on Tuesday, residents can expect to see new “Okay to Call” messages in the form of posters, postcards, bus ads and informational videos across the city later this week.

“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, said 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 public announcements come after the city has reportedly streamlined its Coordinated Street Response Program, a Department of Emergency Management program that has shifted thousands of 911 calls to paramedics, social workers and public health professionals in times of behavioral health crises.

DEM executive director Mary Ellen Carroll said that if residents are worried about someone’s safety, they should call 911. Otherwise, 311 dispatchers can provide support for unhoused people, encampments, overfilled trash cans, accessibility issues, street cleaning and hazardous materials. 

“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.”

Mary Ellen Carroll, Department of Emergency Management

“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,” Carroll said. 

Since 2020, San Francisco has made attempts to change its response to calls for service and provide alternatives to police for those in crisis. The street response program has coordinated specialized teams trained in trauma-informed care, cultural competency and de-escalation tactics, according to city officials. 

“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.”