The SF Mayor’s Office reportedly pulled the plug on the city’s first planned permanent overdose prevention site in the Mission, a week after shutting down the Tenderloin Center where onsite drug use spurred controversy.
San Francisco nonprofit the Gubbio Project has provided clothing, toiletries, and a safe place to sleep for unhoused neighbors at Mission church St. John the Evangelist for nearly two decades. But in response to the fentanyl crisis gripping the city in recent years, the Gubbio Project prepared to open the church’s parking lot as San Francisco’s first formal, permanent overdose prevention site. Counselors at the site would have supervised as people used fentanyl and other drugs, ready to administer Narcan and other care to prevent overdoses and deaths — until London Breed’s office reportedly pulled the plug this week, according the San Francisco Chronicle.
EXCLUSIVE: The beloved @gubbioproject and St. John’s Church had the backing of San Francisco city health officials to open the city’s first, permanent, advertised overdose prevention site. Then the mayor’s office pulled the plug.— Heather Knight (@hknightsf) December 10, 2022
My latest column. https://t.co/oHylpZPtGS
The Chronicle's Heather Knight reports that the Gubbio Project’s executive director, Lydia Bransten, learned of the halt this week in a meeting with city health officials who she said told her, “It is tabled indefinitely. There is not a path forward at this time.” Additionally, mayor's office spokesperson Jeff Cretan confirmed to the Chronicle that “legal issues related to city resources” were blocking the site’s opening.
The news comes as a surprise, since these harm reduction sites seemed to be a key part of the city’s new plan to reduce drug deaths by 15% by 2025.
This past year we served 4,500+ people for specialty services for substance use disorders and gave addiction medicine to 1000s more at primary care clinics and homeless health programs. 1/6 pic.twitter.com/HTb1GxW67a— SFDPH (@SF_DPH) September 28, 2022
There are still potential paths forward for the Gubbio Project — District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen told the Chronicle that she still planned to call on the city to commit $5.5 million to open the site, as well as fund ambassadors to clean the area and discourage camping.
The church was supposed to be one of several “wellness hubs” around the city planned to open after the almost-yearlong experiment of the Tenderloin Center, formerly known as the Tenderloin Linkage Center, ended early this month. At least, that was part of the plan to fight overdose deaths and prevent any single neighborhood like Mid-Market from becoming the center of the crisis.
Hundreds of people use the Tenderloin Center daily, according to city data — not just for narcotic healthcare, but for basic needs: showers, laundry, hot meals and a place to rest.https://t.co/dHOKEs0GCu— SF Examiner (@sfexaminer) November 5, 2022
But the city is now saying that the legality is unclear. A spokesperson for the Department of Public Health tells the Chronicle that “we first need to ensure we can operate a safe consumption component consistent with state and federal law.”
The thing is, safe consumption sites are illegal under federal law, as confirmed by a Third Circuit ruling last year, and Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a safe-consumption-site bill in August that would permitted San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles to launch a pilot program for them. Nevertheless, San Francisco was recently just running one, essentially, at the Tenderloin Center, which ceased operations last weekend.
Bransten pointed out the hypocrisy to the Chronicle, saying that the city seemed to have a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” approach around overdose prevention sites, but refused to take action by creating the formal, structured sites it promised.
Meanwhile, the overdose death toll in the city surpassed 500 people this year in October, the most recent numbers. A recent audit found that the Tenderloin Center had helped to reverse around 300 overdoses during its 11 months in operation.
Image via Plateaueatplau/Wikimedia Commons.