Statement in Response to Policing People Who Use Drugs

San Francisco – HealthRIGHT 360 continues to stand in opposition to the criminalization and policing of people who use drugs under the Mayor’s Declaration of Emergency in response to drug overdose deaths in the Tenderloin. The Tenderloin Linkage Center, a coordinated effort undertaken by multiple city departments and providers, shows great promise as a non-coercive space that is designed to connect people who use drugs, and people experiencing homelessness, to care and services. People are showing up to the linkage center in large numbers without being forced to be there under threat of arrest.

To be successful in responding to the overdose crisis, there must be more low-barrier welcoming locations, including implementing supervised consumption services. If we want people to not use drugs on the streets, and more importantly, to not die from drug overdoses, we must continue to support services that build connections with people and provide direct access to services and care. Most critically, we must invest in the infrastructure that supports linkages to care.

San Francisco’s system of care for people with mental illness and substance use disorders continues to face critical staffing shortages that throttle direct access to services. The system continues to lack adequate housing, shelter, and treatment capacity to truly provide immediate access, 24 hours per day, 7-days per week. The next phase of the emergency response must be directed to building out services, not increasing policing. Over-policing people who use drugs will lead to more overdose deaths, not less. 

We thank Mayor Breed for declaring a crisis and acknowledging the magnitude of the tragedy of lives lost to overdoses. Rapidly standing up a low-barrier multi-service center was a bold and meaningful first step. The next step is to address the issues of access and capacity resulting from staffing shortages, and a severe lack of shelter and housing. Finally, the response must center those who have been most harmed by the War on Drugs—San Francisco’s Black and Brown communities. If we really want to reduce drug deaths and improve the quality of life for residents of the Tenderloin, then the city must be willing to invest in services and continue to do more new bold things, not old things.

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