Debate ensues over San Francisco providing alcohol, drugs to homeless in hotels

In response to a Twitter debate stemming from a person upset that drugs and alcohol are given to the homeless staying in hotels, San Francisco's Department of Public Health on Wednesday confirmed it provides nicotine and other addictive substances to those trying to recover from addiction.

They say it's part of a plan to help the unhoused population quarantine rather than out on the streets.

The city confirmed on social media first and then in a news conference that providing alcohol and other addictive substances is a way to help protect those homeless now being housed in hotels and the general public.

"With regard to supporting people who are at risk, or who need to be in quarantine or isolation because they're COVID positive, our focus needs to be on supporting them," said Dr. Grant Colfax from San Francisco's Department of Public Health. "Meeting them where they are so that they can be cared for in the most appropriate way. In the way that's good for them and for our community."

The health department confirmed that about 10% of their quarantine guests have received tobacco products. 11 guests have received medically appropriate amounts of alcohol to prevent alcohol withdrawal.

The city confirmed on social media that they are providing those substance for free. Health officials said the practice isn't unique, and that it's not paid for with tax dollars. A person on Twitter started a firestorm when he said he was upset that drugs and alcohol are provided for free to homeless addicts. 

The mayor has said housing those with mental illness and substance abuse issues complicates the effort to shelter the city's homeless in hotels.

The city's health department said harm reduction strategies are scientifically proven to be more effective than trying to force people to go cold turkey.

"Our philosophy in terms of treating those who suffer from addiction, substance use disorders is really again focused on science and the medical literature," said Dr. Colfax.

The department said staff has received deliveries for medical cannabis for those with prescriptions paid for by the guests or in whatever way they would ordinarily pay for that cannabis.