Demonstrators in SF accuse city's linkage center of allowing open drug use

A San Francisco center meant to help those with drug addictions is now accused of fueling them.

A small group of women stood outside of San Francisco's Tenderloin Linkage Center outside U.N. Plaza, holding photos of young adults. They say they are mothers of drug addicts who live on the streets of the city. 

"He's struggling to get healthy," said Jacqui Berlin of her son. "He wants to get off drugs, but San Francisco makes it so incredibly easy for him to stay on the streets and continue using."

The center opened earlier this year as part of Mayor London Breed's state of emergency declaration last December for the Tenderloin opioid crisis. According to the mayor's office, it was meant to be a one-stop shop for those dealing with addiction. A number of resources would be at their disposal and they would eventually have access to food, water and hygiene products 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For now, the center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is closed on holidays.

The mothers protesting Saturday morning accuse the center of illegally allowing sales and use of drugs within the fences surrounding the area. 

"He was here a couple weeks ago and he said people are just using in there," said Berlin. "It doesn't feel any different being on the streets."

"You don't have an AA meeting in a bar, you don't hand a loaded gun to a person that's suicidal," said Gina McDonald, holding a photo of her daughter. "Anyone wanting to get help, walking down the streets smoking fentanyl, shooting heroin, it's not helping anybody."

SEE ALSO: San Francisco mayor declares state of emergency in Tenderloin over overdose crisis

Some among the crowd say an open safe space for drug use could be an effective way to tackle addictions. It's an idea already in effect in New York, says former city supervisor, who is running for state assembly seat, David Campos. He says he tried to introduce the idea to the city in 2016. The issue is somewhat of a legal gray area with federal laws against drugs still in place. 

"I do think this is the step in the right direction," he said. "Pursuing harm reduction in San Francisco, I hope we do open a space where we have a fully operational safe consumption site and I think that gets us in that direction."

According to a report from the San Francisco Chronicle, the city's Department of Emergency Management denied running a supervised drug consumption site. Mothers of those battling addiction hope that is true.

"We could be doing better," said McDonald. "We should be doing better."