The San Francisco watchdog was meeting on Thursday to consider an emergency order requested by the mayor to tackle the opioid epidemic in the city’s troubled Tenderloin neighborhood, with some members clearly dismayed that the statement could be used to criminalize homeless people, drug addicts or both.
Public health emergency declaration allows Emergency Management Department to reassign city staff and bypass contract and licensing regulations to set up a new temporary center where people can access treatment and expanded addiction counseling.
But advocates for the homeless and drug addicts are calling for a no vote as the Mayor of London Breed has also pledged to flood the neighborhood with police to end crime. Public health officials urge treatment for drug addicts, not punishment, but Breed said people who use drugs in public can end up in jail unless they agree to the services.
Supervisors said they welcome the idea of treating a drug epidemic fueled by cheap synthetic fentanyl like the crisis it is. More people in San Francisco died from overdoses last year than from COVID-19.
“I think we should all mobilize all the resources we have in this city to deal with this crisis,” said supervisor Hillary Ronen. “But because of the way it’s been portrayed in the media, I don’t trust we’re talking about the same thing.”
The net includes museums, the main public library, and government offices, including City Hall. But it’s also teeming with homeless and marginalized people, a high concentration of drug traffickers and people who use drugs at large.
Breed said last week it was time to be “less tolerant of all the bulls that have destroyed our town”.
“When a person openly uses drugs on the street, we will give them the opportunity to go to the services and treatment that we offer. But if they refuse, we will not allow them to continue using on the street, ”she said on social media this week. “Families in the neighborhood deserve better.
Breed has pledged to open a supervised drug use site as well as a drug sobering-up center, and said the Department of Emergency Management will lead the response much as if coordinating efforts to combat the pandemic. The department will partly streamline emergency medical calls, disrupt drug trafficking and use, and keep the streets clean.
Overdose deaths have increased by more than 200% in San Francisco since 2018 and last year more than 700 people died from drug overdoses in the city, more than the number of people who died from COVID-19, according to the proclamation.
Nearly 600 people have died from drug overdoses this year, through November, with nearly half of the deaths occurring in the Tenderloin and nearby South of Market, the proclamation says. These areas represent 7% of the population of San Francisco.
Politically liberal cities across the United States grapple with crime in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, when their elected leaders pledged ways to reduce friction between police and vulnerable communities of color, by especially African Americans like Floyd.
San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin joined the city’s public defender earlier this week in denouncing the mayor’s plan, saying jailing those struggling with addictions, mental health and homelessness would not work .
They want her to use the money to add more treatment beds, shelters, skills training and other social services.
“What we are currently seeing in the net did not happen overnight and stems from years of massive divestment and displacement,” said Jeannette Zanipatin, California director at the Drug Policy Alliance.
If approved, the emergency order will last for 90 days, unless Breed requests a renewal.