Plans to create a dozen "wellness hubs" around the city to replace the Tenderloin Center and permit safer consumption of dangerous drugs like fentanyl are stalled due to legal concerns. But several supervisors are pressing the mayor and health department to stop having cold feet about the legal issues.
Controversies surrounding the Tenderloin Center go back to first weeks in early 2022, and it wasn't long before a conservative activist was out to prove that San Francisco was funding and condoning the use of narcotics.
Officially, San Francisco had a don't-ask-don't-tell sort of policy with the Tenderloin Center, and there was a fenced off but outdoor area where individuals were unofficially permitted to consume drugs — and trained people were standing by with Narcan to prevent overdoses, reportedly doing that around 300 times over 11 months.
Now, as noted over the weekend, the city has halted plans to open 12 "wellness hubs" which will double as more official safe-consumption sites, apparently out of concern for the legal ramifications.
"This is not a funding issue, it’s a legal one," says mayoral spokesperson Jeff Cretan, speaking to the Chronicle. And as we know, Governor Gavin Newsom recently vetoed a state bill that the city may have been counting on to give it the green light for safe-consumption sites.
"Why was that okay three weeks ago and it’s not okay today?” says Supervisor Hillary Ronen to the Chronicle, referring to the recent closure of the Tenderloin Center. "It makes no sense."
Over the weekend, Ronen tweeted, about the change in city policy, "There are certain times that call for courage & leadership. This is one of those times."
Supervisor Dean Preston's office sent out a press release Tuesday afternoon, in the midst of the Board of Supervisors' meeting, also calling out the mayor on this "whip-lash" decision, and suggesting this was more about politics.
"The collective whiplash — among constituents, providers, Supervisors, and others — at the Mayor’s constant shifting messages sends the wrong signal — that saving lives is less important than playing politics," says Preston. "Enough. We need real leadership, not excuses, and we need it now. No more delays in opening life-saving wellness hubs, especially here in the Tenderloin."
Two nonprofits, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Mission-based Gubbio Project, were both prepared to open the safe-consumption sites as soon as the Tenderloin Center closed, with what they thought was the city's blessing and funding.
But then, late last week, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Health was saying “we first need to ensure we can operate a safe consumption component consistent with state and federal law."
At the moment, this seems hopefully stalled — since there probably isn't a way to do this, above-board, that is "consistent with state and federal law."
Ronen gave a press conference on the steps of City Hall Tuesday saying, "We don’t want our streets to be a place where people are using drugs. We need to get people off the streets and inside."
Ronen said the supes would be passing a resolution — she claimed to have the votes — to authorize the use of the city's opioid-settlement funds to support the "wellness hubs," and she additionally said they would authorize $5.5 million in budget funds to support the "near-term" opening of the hubs.
It remains to be seen if the city attorney's office will step in to stop them, or what the next political chess move may be.
Photo: Gordon Mak