Faith-based leaders express outrage to safe injection sites in San Francisco

“They want to help people but at the same time give them the use to get high".

That was how Bishop Ron Allen from Sacramento describes the city of San Francisco’s plan to open a safe injection site for drug users. This plan approved by the board of supervisors was labeled assembly bill 186.

When mayor London Breed was inaugurated in a speech from the podium she made no mistake about her objectives in becoming the city’s 45th mayor.

“I want to get people off the street who are shooting up, I want to get the needles off the streets. That's why I'm proposing safe injection sites. But, more importantly I want to be sure we have treatment on demand”, she said.

Friday morning in San Francisco faith based leaders held a press conference to express outrage to safe injection sites. San Francisco’s center would be the first of its kind in the nation. 

Faye Maloney, chairwoman of the California Narcotics Officers Association, said there are no safeguards in place to assure that once someone shoots up they don’t immediately get behind the wheel of a car and endanger themselves or others. Maloney argued law enforcement would be handcuffed in responding to calls for service by individuals and businesses in neighborhoods around a site, since local approval would require leniency on all drug crimes in a certain area.

Mayor Breed, aware of the opposition, said in part, “This is about getting people off the streets and into treatment. It is also about educating people about the positive impact this can have. As a Supervisor, I took a trip to Vancouver to see how safe injection sites work. The community was against safe injection sites and it took time, and now the residents are overwhelming supportive because of what it did to transform neighborhoods.”

A representative from Vancouver, Canada was at the San Francisco meeting. Vancouver opened its first safe injection site in 2003 and plans to expand the program. Reverend Wayne Lo says the program has failed and the sites bring crime, “Drug dealers can have been seen working in the vicinity in back alleys", said Lo.

San Francisco’s Glide Memorial Methodist Church likes the idea of supervised safe injection facilities. It hasn’t been confirmed if the San Francisco church will be the location of the site, but harm reduction program manager Paul Harkin says the facilities provide a safe haven.

"People can come indoors, they’re medically supervised, no one has ever died in one of those places", said Harkin.

In late August Glide plans to host an open house to show how effective and easily these facilities can be built. No drug injections will take place during the open house but after visiting Vancouver he believes there is a useful purpose to safe injection facilities and those opposed need to educate themselves.

“What we know from what’s happening in Vancouver is that they had a surge in overdoses and when these services started the overdose rates dropped,” said Harkin.

It’s not clear when or where San Francisco’s safe injection center will open. The mayor’s office had made it clear the goal is to get drug users and discarded needles off the streets.