STATEMENT ON TENDERLOIN DECLARATION OF EMERGENCY, BY DR. VITKA EISEN, CEO, HEALTHRIGHT 360
San Francisco – There is a tired old trope about San Francisco being ungovernable because we can’t agree on things, but you won’t hear that from me. If you think I’m going to defend the status quo in the Tenderloin, I hate to disappoint you. We know the Tenderloin needs an intervention, and it has for decades. People in poverty, people without enough food, people without homes, people using drugs on the streets, crime—that doesn’t work for anybody living in the Tenderloin—it doesn’t work for the elders, it doesn’t work for kids, it doesn’t work for people without shelter, and it doesn’t work for people using drugs on the streets. On this, I think we can all agree.
If we can get past the superficial soundbite of San Francisco progressives versus moderates, or whatever binary construct people make of this conversation, let’s talk about some solutions. Let’s be collaborative, wildly innovative, and creative in supporting a safe, healthy Tenderloin community.
If we want people to stop using drugs on the streets, let’s give them safe places to use drugs indoors, supported by teams of people who can make sure that they don’t die, and connect them with care and critical services. We’ve been talking about this for years now, years! If we want to see a decrease in people living outdoors, let’s not close the shelter-in-place hotels. If we want to address behavioral health challenges on the street, let’s quickly implement and scale up Mental Health SF, and expand Treatment on Demand. If we want to connect people on the streets to care, let’s try a thoughtful, compassionate outreach program like SF CART. If we want to stop people from dying from a toxic drug supply, let’s pilot a Safe Supply program like the successful program in Canada. And if we want to decrease crime, let’s expand the Dream Keeper Initiative here in San Francisco.
I have been at this work, caring for people who use drugs, for a very long time. I see this counterproductive dichotomy, where it seems like the only two solutions are “lock them up” or “don’t lock them up,” with no real thought, long-term investment in evidence-based strategies in the middle. Effective strategies require that we stop and make modifications along the way when circumstances and conditions change, rather than call it all a failure and revert to what hasn’t worked before. Because a problem is complex does not mean it is not solvable, it requires flexibility in thinking. We can do this.
The War on Drugs has produced exactly the conditions you see in the Tenderloin today, having contributed to mass incarceration and generational carceral trauma, and the dehumanizing conditions for so many people in the Tenderloin and in other notably Black and Brown communities in San Francisco.
I look forward to working with the Mayor, and all of our community partners, to support and improve the health of all San Franciscans.