CEO Statement

Statement on Hateful Actions, Harmful Rhetoric, and Damaging Stigma

San Francisco – Over the July 4th weekend, a number of individuals all wearing “Blue Lives Matter” shirts attempted to gain unauthorized access to our two newest HealthRIGHT 360 programs—both programs offering low-barrier, loving, health-promoting, harm reduction services in San Francisco.  

The goal of their intrusion was to film our clients/guests with the intent of posting videos of them on social media. This is not the first time this has happened in the past several months, and it reflects a growing and alarming trend towards more aggressive, punitive approaches to addressing drug use and substance use disorder. The pictures and videos that are captured (without consent) are then posted on social media with derisive comments, the purpose being to humiliate and exploit our clients while demanding police intervention. As if shame and incarceration are novel and effective responses to drug use and addiction; as if that has NEVER been tried before. 

In fact, shame, stigma, arrest, and incarceration have been the most enduring of all responses to substance use disorder, and have proven to be demonstrably and disastrously failed social policies and practices with catastrophic results, particularly for Black and Brown communities.   

In the face of the overdose crisis and the endless racist War on Drugs, I have come to see our work as urgently about leaving no person behind, and at the mercy of the criminal legal system. Whereas so much of our work has historically been centered around providing care for those who cross our thresholds through any access point, I have come to have a much broader view of who we serve. 

I believe we have a responsibility for those who come to us and leave after one day, or never return to complete their intake, or don’t show up for their appointments, or their follows-ups. I believe we can work to improve the health and safety of those who are not contemplating treatment. I believe that we should make sure we stay connected to those who have completed their treatment episodes, and those who have not. 

In this time of crisis, isolation, and disconnection, staying focused on contact, connection, and compassion are vital. 

In addition to all we do and have done with heart and with skill over the years, we have expanded services to include street crisis intervention, drug crisis respite, and overdose prevention services through several new contracts in San Francisco. 

In these programs, we work with people who are currently using drugs. Some are former treatment clients, some may yet enter or re-enter treatment, others may never enter treatment. All are welcomed with love and respect. Our goal is safety and connection and to prevent overdose deaths. It’s pretty simple really; stop the dying, build authentic relationships, connect to care of any kind when it is sought. 

Our staff handled the attempted intrusions with the same grace and composure that our staff have handled similarly stressful situations all too often in the past—from bounty hunters breaching our facilities to take pregnant women into custody, to police attempting to serve warrants to clients in treatment. All violations of our clients’ rights under federal law. 

The July 4th weekend incursions marked a new low in terms of attitudes towards people struggling with poverty, a lack of housing, and with drug use. In spite of and because of that, I couldn’t be more sure we are doing the right thing, and I couldn’t be more proud of the work our staff do. 

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