Sharp-Dressed Man

Attention addicts and alcoholics: The state will buy you a $200 suit to help you get a job

Whenever an ambulance wails by, Daniel Coates raps his fist on his skull twice — knock on wood — and mutters, "Thank God I'm not in it."

The San Franciscan's boyish good looks belie his 30 years. But peer a little closer and you'll notice the scars — on his temples, his knuckles — from many losing bouts with the pavement. Coates has a seizure disorder; up until recently he was reticent to smile because he didn't have any front teeth.

At the onset of July, Coates was hitting the trifecta: Unemployed, uninsured, and disabled. Little did he know, however, that this entitled him to a free suit from the state Department of Rehabilitation. In fact, little did he know about the Department of Rehabilitation, period. "When I heard about Rehabilitation, I thought of Lindsay Lohan," he said with a laugh.

Lohan, being employed and insured, would not qualify for a free suit. Coates did, and so do hundreds of other San Francisco men and women every year, many of them former prisoners or recovering alcohol and drug addicts. The idea is to help troubled folks get a job and keep it. According to the department's chief of procurement, during the 2006-2007 fiscal year, the state spent nearly $1.6 million on suits — or an average of $205 per person who got a suit.

Larry Fernandez, a Men's Wearhouse district manager, said nearly 40 state rehab clients a year drop in locally and spend up to $450 of state funds on suits. Jesse Hayes of A Miner Miracle estimated that up to 120 DOR men a year spend around $200 apiece. DOR clients also go to Rochester Big and Tall shops or Ross.

The, eh, suitors don't get cash from the state to buy their threads. The rehab department gives them paperwork to take to the retailers, who then bill the state. Long story short, it takes one week to get the suit after picking it out.

Ironically, during the week he was waiting for his suit, Coates landed a job without it. He currently teaches English to foreign students. Theoretically, he could wear his new $300 suit to class, but because he has nowhere to keep it, he hasn't been able to wear it once. He's living day-to-day in various S.F. hostels, so the suit is locked away in a pal's closet.

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