More than 300 visitors have accessed the new SoMa Rise sobering center in its first month open, but it’s still unclear whether it's producing any good outcomes, or justifying its $4.2 million-a-year price tag.
We are now just over one month into the operation of San Francisco’s long-planned drug sobering center, originally billed as a meth sobering center, which opened on June 27 on Howard Street near Seventh Street. It goes by its official name SoMa Rise, and my original question with all of this was ‘Is anyone really going to use this thing?’
It turns out that yes, 315 people did visit the center to sober up in its first month (though that’s aggregate visits, not unique visitors, so one person visiting multiple times would be counted over and over). There’s an image of the interior above, and according to its website the center “welcomes intoxicated people who are struggling with substance use from the streets to a safe place indoors” where they “can access clean bathrooms, showers, food and a place to rest.”
And apparently its purpose is twofold, not just to help people sober up, but also take some burden off of hospital emergency rooms — for instance when a person gets taken to an ER due to meth-induced psychosis and mostly just needs to sober up. The Chronicle spoke with a few visitors of the sobering center, which does not allow drug use onsite (it’s a sobering center). They apparently have not yet had to turn anyone away, though the Chron did find that “Two people who tried to help friends get inside the center in the past week told the Chronicle that staff told them they need to go to the Tenderloin center to get a referral.”
There was at least one success story, or the foundation of one at least, in one mother who wrote a supportive letter to Mayor Breed about the program. She’s the mother of a 37-year-old user who has been to SoMa Rise "three or four times a week" since it opened. The mother said "it’s the only drop-in center she knows of that’s not on a block rife with drug activity, one where he can call her, sleep safely and is treated with dignity by staff."
Other visitors complain there is no housing connection element for people experiencing homelessness, or really any feature other than sobering you up, getting some food and a shower, and hoping to talk you into treatment. One drug user who told the Chronicle he had been in SoMa Rise at least once suggested that it ought to be doing more, like providing job training or classes of some kind.
Homeless individuals seeking housing placements still need to go elsewhere, like the Tenderloin Center, to get referrals.
The sobering center has just 20 beds, and it has yet to have a day when it was completely full.
There’s also the issue of whether this is clearing any of the blight that affects that part of the South of Market neighborhood. The consensus among business owners on the corridor is that it hasn't necessarily hurt, nor has it really helped. The convenience store Starco Mart (which is right next door) complained to the Chronicle that “while business got a boost when the center opened, shoplifting spiked too.” But this could just be coincidence.
The $4.2 million-a-year center is still a work in progress. They will be adding more beds, and it will switch to a 24/7 facility some time early this month. It still seems a pretty small-bore solution to the drug crisis in that area, and may never make a noticeable impact to passersby. But it will surely be less controversial than sites allowing open drug use, so the public will probably be more patient with this particular program.
Image: Google Street View