Media reports confirm that people are allowed to use drugs at the Tenderloin Linkage Center, which some recovery experts applaud, and others say is “like trying to have an AA meeting in a bar.”
Precisely nine days after the opening of the Tenderloin Linkage Center that serves as the centerpiece of Mayor Breed’s Tenderloin “state of emergency” declaration, the center has its first significant controversy. Acting on a tip from someone's Substack newsletter, the Chronicle confirmed that people are allowed to use drugs at the new social services intake site.
“A Chronicle reporter standing outside on Tuesday observed several people in the fenced-in area holding drug paraphernalia including foil and lighters used to smoke fentanyl and pipes used to smoke meth,” the paper reported Wednesday morning.
The Chron also spoke to someone seeking services who’d blazed up on narcotics at the site and told the paper, “They were cool about it.”
San Francisco is allowing people to use drugs in an outdoor area of Mayor Breed’s new Tenderloin Linkage Center. Advocates disagree on whether or not allowing people to get high at the site will help them get connected to treatment.https://t.co/NPYxt9zjkB— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) January 26, 2022
City officials confirmed that drug use was allowed, though in painfully vague non-denials. The mayor’s spokesperson Jeff Cretan told the Chronicle that the center is “doing everything we can to help people struggling with addiction." Department of Emergency Management spokesperson Francis Zamora says, “Part of being a low-barrier site means bringing people in without asking a lot of questions.” A Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing spokesperson added that “If people overdose, at least they’re right next to staff that can help them.”
We should note that this apparent drug use is not rampant across the facility. It seems confined to a highly fenced outdoor area that is not visible to the general public, and these are likely individuals who want to get clean but are suffering symptoms of withdrawal. It does not appear they are letting anyone smoke or use indoors, though journalists are not allowed in any part of the facility, indoors or outdoors.
The tip about drug use, while confirmed, comes from a highly dubious source who certainly has an agenda. The revelation came from the Substack newsletter of Grade-A Fox News aficionado Michael Shellenberger, who’s currently promoting his book San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities, and often appears on Fox News for histrionic segments like “Is ‘wokeism’ a new religion?”
But whether to allow people to use drugs at a treatment center is a legitimate debate in the recovery community, and there are bright people who think it’s a terrible idea. “If you’re coming into a place that’s supposed to guide you toward the end of seeking treatment and recovery and there are people using drugs around you, that becomes an incentive to keep going,” Stanford School of Medicine Stanford School of Medicine Keith Humphreys told the Chron. “It’s like trying to have an AA meeting in a bar.”
Others find this a very sound practice for helping people struggling with addiction. “The norm of these places is we are trying to meet people where they’re at,” St. James Infirmary director of harm reduction Brooke Lober told the paper. “They remain welcome there, and I think that’s how all services have to be if they are appealing to people if they use drugs.”
A primary question here is whether all of this is legal (actually that’s not a question, this is illegal, though a proposed state law could change that). And Breed’s proposed safe injection sites carry similar legal risks. But we cannot imagine City Attorney David Chiu or District Attorney Chesa Boudin suing Breed or the city to stop this, so people will probably be using at a city-run facility for at least the 90 days of Breed’s emergency order.
Image: @SFDEM_MEC via Twitter