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Tenderloin housing site to become drug sobering center

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The campaign to turn empty lot into “village” for homeless passed over in favor of rehab site

The parking lot between two buildings on the corner of Jones and Turk.
The empty lot at the corner of Jones and Turk.

Before a large-scale affordable housing project rises on the spot, San Francisco City Hall and Tenderloin residents have been at a crossroads over what to do with the parking lot located at 180 Jones.

On Thursday, Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Rafael Mandelman announced plans to use the location as a temporary “drug sobering center” for those coming down from methamphetamine use.

At the planned facility, people dealing with addiction would be able to check in to receive care for estimated stays of eight to ten hours (just enough time to sober up), at which point city employees will offer counseling, health information, and assistance for identifying long-term rehab options.

The center will have only 15 beds, but will be open 24 hours a day and, if deemed successful, operate as a pilot for possible future expansion. The initial timetable calls for opening in later this spring.

“San Francisco is facing a methamphetamine crisis,” said Mandelman on Thursday, noting that a 2019 city task force “identified the establishment of drug sobering centers as it number one recommendation” for preventing deaths by overdose. (Note that 180 Jones isn’t in Mandelman’s district; he’s taking point on the proposal because of his position as head of the city’s Methamphetamine Task Force.)

Mayor Breed said Thursday that overdoses have increased on SF’s streets.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” she adds.

Currently owned by the city, the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation plans to build 71 new affordable homes on the site starting in 2021. The new residences will be aimed at people making as little as $30,000 per year.

For months now, Tenderloin activists and former mayoral candidate Amy Farah Weiss have campaigned to use 180 Jones as a “village” for homeless San Franciscans, employing small modular homes for shelter.

Weiss even interrupted the opening of the Embarcadero homeless Navigation Center last year, attempting to shout down Breed’s speech and question why the city wasn’t acting on the proposal, which she claims has wide support in the neighborhood.

As Weiss told Curbed SF last week, “Our partner organizations, supporters, and volunteers are still hoping to work together with the Mayor’s Office” on what Weiss calls a “much-needed gift of service and stewardship to the Tenderloin.”

In response to the sober center announcement Weiss said, “In some ways it’s a victory,” but also called it “unfortunate” that her competing plan was passed over and said she hopes City Hall will consider other potential locales for the village.

The city’s 2019 meth task force report noted that while “there are no reliable estimates of how many people use methamphetamine,” more than 10,000 intravenous drug users say they use meth.

Unfortunately, this trend is particularly pronounced in the Tenderloin; 36.6 percent of arrests for meth possession in 2018 took place in that neighborhood alone, and 55 percent happened in the larger District Six area in SoMa. For comparison, just 14 percent of similar arrests took place in the Mission, which has more than double the Tenderloin’s population.

In 2008, 1.8 per 100,000 deaths in San Francisco were meth related. But by 2017, that figure jumped to 11.5 per 100,000.

Before going ahead with the sober facility plan, the Mayor’s Office will have to conduct more public outreach in the neighborhood for support. On February 11 the city will hold a public meeting at 180 Turk Street where interested neighbors can voice their support for or against the project.