SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — With over 1,900 overdose deaths in two years, abysmal street conditions in neighborhoods, and the recent closure of the Tenderloin Linkage Center, San Francisco supervisors are pushing to open “safe” drug consumption sites.

Supervisors Matt Dorsey, Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen, Ahsha Safai, Shamann Walton, Myrna Melgar, Connie Chan, and Aaron Peskin introduced a plan Tuesday to fast-track the opening of Wellness Hubs that include so-called “safe consumption spaces” around the city.

Critics of the Wellness Hubs say San Francisco’s leaders are essentially legalizing illegal narcotics and enabling addicts to plunge even deeper into miserable cycles of addiction.

“Letting someone continuously use drugs will never let them get clean,” said Ricci Wynne, a recovering drug addict and an anti-open air drug market activist. “You’re so inebriated and the addiction is so cunning and baffling, as we say in Narcotics Anonymous. It will keep you in a state of bondage for the rest of your life until you end up in an institution, the graveyard, or jail,” Wynne told KRON4.

Proponents of the hubs adamantly argue that the hubs will save lives.

“It is time for this city to stand up for proven interventions that have saved countless lives in the 200 sites around the world and greatly reduced the amount of open-air drug use in the streets,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “Safe consumption sites are often the first interaction people with drug addiction have to caring services that aim to lead individuals towards long term recovery.”

The Tenderloin Linkage Center, which reversed 333 overdoses in its 11 months of operation, closed last week.

One of the most contentious issues over the hubs is the issue of mandatory rehab. Critics say the hubs are slated to make the same mistake as the now-defunct Tenderloin Linkage Center by failing to require addicts to sign up for rehab services.

“I’m a long-time beneficiary and strong believer in abstinence-based recovery programs, but they can only work for those who are alive,” said Supervisor Matt Dorsey.

Supervisors say the hubs will link sick people with treatment, but it’s unclear how the hubs’ model will be different from the Tenderloin Linkage Center.

According to the city’s data, nearly 50,000 guests utilized the Tenderloin Linkage Center between January and May. Just 38 people were “connected” to substance use treatment during that time period, according to city data.

“Drug injection sites are disastrous. Enabling destructive drug use will never work,” Frank Lee, Bay Area director of the California Coalition Against Drug, told KRON4.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai said the hubs will move sick people off the street and into a space where assistance is available. “Wellness Hubs are an important step as a part of a comprehensive plan that will help very sick people on the street come inside and get assistance with their addiction. It will provide a venue to enter a community for abstinence-based and other forms of treatment and begin the process towards recovery.”

Dorsey said, “Given the potent lethality of drugs like fentanyl now fueling our drug OD crisis, there is real urgency to pursue harm-reduction approaches that save lives and provide an interim step toward the promise of real recovery. I’m convinced that Wellness Hubs offer a workable model that can assure safer use and safe neighborhoods — affirming the principle that harm reduction is about the quality of life and well-being for individuals as well as for the community.”

Critics are skeptical of claims that the hubs will improve quality of life for everyone in drug-plagued neighborhoods. Drug dealers will prowl near the hubs because that’s where their buyers will be, critics say.

San Francisco is poised to follow New York City, where two drug consumption sites are currently operated.

In preparation of the Tenderloin Linkage Center’s closure, the Department of Public Health released a comprehensive Overdose Prevention Plan which included opening 12 Wellness Hubs citywide within two years. The first Wellness Hub was slated to open at the end of this year to allow for a smooth transition from the services previously provided at the Tenderloin Linkage Center. 

The supervisors are introducing a plan to pursue the opening of several Wellness Hubs. The plan includes:

  • An updated hearing on why the city ceased plans for the Wellness Hubs after months of work to open the centers.
  • A $5.5-million budget supplemental to fund the near term opening of Wellness Hubs in neighborhoods where death by overdose and open-air drug use is most prevalent.
  • A resolution calling for a portion of the funds from the opioid settlements to fund the opening of Wellness Hubs over the next two years.

Back in August, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 57 and blocked a safe injection site pilot program from launching in California.

Newsom wrote in his memo, “The unlimited number of safe injection sites that this bill would authorize … could induce a world of unintended consequences.” Newsom noted that open drug use in cities like San Francisco and Oakland “cannot be taken lightly.” 

“Worsening drug consumption challenges in these areas is not a risk we can take,” Newsom wrote.