The Board of Supervisors approved an emergency order to tackle the opioid epidemic in San Francisco’s troubled Tenderloin neighborhood, despite reservations by some that the declaration will be used by the mayor to criminalize people who are homeless, addicted to drugs or both.
The vote shortly after midnight on Friday was 8-2, following a marathon 10 hours of debate and public comment. The public health emergency declaration authorizes the Department of Emergency Management to re-allocate city staff and bypass contracting and permitting regulations to set up a new temporary center where people can access expanded drug treatment and counseling.
Advocates for the homeless and substance users urged supervisors to reject the emergency order because Mayor London Breed has also pledged to flood the district with police to halt crime, which some residents want. The mayor also said some drug users may wind up in jail unless they accept services, although drug possession is a misdemeanor crime and rarely enforced.
The board ultimately approved the declaration, calling the abundance of cheap fentanyl a crisis. More people in San Francisco died of overdose last year than of COVID-19.