The initially much-ballyhooed Tenderloin Center will be closing almost a month earlier than planned, and the first rigorous study on its effects found it did some good, but maybe not $22 million worth of good.
The almost-yearlong experiment of the Tenderloin Center, formerly known as the Tenderloin Linkage Center, will be ending early. It was slated to open through the end of 2022, but we learned earlier this month that it will instead be closing on December 5. And it’s sort of an end with a whimper, after the center created notable controversies with drug use allowed on-site, and all of the concealing tarps and fences that gave the facility a sort of weird, secretive air that the taxpaying public wasn’t allowed to know what was going on in there.
The city paid $500,000 for the analysis, exclusively shared with The Chronicle, part of the $22 million cost to run the center since it opened in January. https://t.co/IaCDhBUY10— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) November 16, 2022
Well, now we have (sort of?) a chance to know what was going on in there, and to what degree it did any good. The Chronicle has obtained an initial mayor-commissioned study assessing the effects of the Tenderloin Center, a study that will eventually be released as peer-reviewed research. It notes that we spent $22 million on the Tenderloin Center in 2022. So was it worth it?
The Chronicle’s analysis notes that "staff at the center have tracked more than 115,000 visits, with 94% of guests from the Tenderloin." And it appear the Tenderloin Center saved some lives, as "Staff reversed 300 overdoses, almost all in the center’s courtyard. No one died." The Chronicle also adds that "The center linked 2,885 people to care, many to housing or shelter and others receiving medical care, mental health or drug treatment. Staff referred 5,843 more to similar services, and enrolled more than 600 in government benefits.”
Many of the center’s benefits were soft benefits, as the report points out that "A vast majority of guests’ requests were for basic services such as food and showers." The Chronicle also adds that "The analysis didn’t assess how well the center connected visitors to care."
Yet many are howling over the conclusion that the Tenderloin Center “didn’t worsen street conditions compared to before the pandemic,” though the study did use empirical data, and their crime analysis is not yet complete.
The Tenderloin center reversed 300 overdoses at the site & another 28 in neighboring streets. That’s huge.— Zahra Hajee (@zahra_hajee) November 16, 2022
The center has clearly shown the critical role safe consumption sites can play for cities that are struggling w/ drug overdose crises. These sites save lives, full stop. pic.twitter.com/9Kc6UG2Hig
As seen above and below, response to the study has been a litmus test of whatever people’s prior opinions were. Many people rightfully point out the 300 overdoses reversed is an unconditionally good thing, particularly if we are taking the overdose crisis seriously. Others have bemoaned that the report cannot be trusted, because lead researcher Alex Kral has been an advocate for safe drug consumption sites.
J schools will be using this almost unbelievably bad story as an example of what not to do. oh, and how to further discredit a newspaper. enjoy the embarrassment! https://t.co/FcIDdHs8hA via @sfchronicle @mallorymoench @alexhkral— Erica Sandberg 舊金山的神奇女俠 (@EricaJSandberg) November 16, 2022
Mayor Breed herself has not been gung ho on the Tenderloin Center, despite it having been her idea. “There are a lot of folks who have gotten assistance, treatment, transition into housing, not as many as we would have hoped for, but a few,” she said at a news conference last month. “But they can only serve so many people at a time.”
And much of Breed's centrist coalition hates the Center. Supervisor Ahsha Safaí called it “an embarrassment” and “a linkage to nowhere” at a board meeting earlier this month, saying the on-site drug use “has to be triggering” for those in recovery at the center. He added, “I don’t feel like we’re getting what was sold.”
Jordan Davis, homeless activist, at the SFBOS audit and oversight - Tenderloin Linkage Center public comment, Thursday November 3, 2022— bluoz (@auweia1) November 8, 2022
video at 2hr.18minhttps://t.co/IfjHcBUaIU pic.twitter.com/QBRqHmrkfs
Either way, the Tenderloin Center is winding down in less than three weeks, much to the dismay of homelessness activists, and the Board of Supervisors, which passed a resolution last week urging it remain open. The SF Standard reports that it’s slated to replaced by “wellness hubs,” which will likely have a smaller price tag, and may or may not be as effective at preventing overdoses, or putting a dent in public drug use.
Image @SFDEM_MEC via Twitter