SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco's city leaders are still grappling with challenges in the city's Tenderloin District. Now, six months after an emergency order to address drug deaths in the area has expired, city leaders are looking back and learning, hoping to apply lessons from the past to future solutions. City leaders say accountability and access to help are some of the first steps in addressing the challenges of the Tenderloin.
Drug sales and use, homelessness, mental health crises came to a head in the Tenderloin as the pandemic surged. The mayor followed the same playbook that worked to battle COVID-19 and declared the situation an emergency. "We have to move quickly. Too many people are dying in this city, too many people are sprawled out all over our streets, and now we have a plan to address it," said San Francisco Mayor London Breed in December 2021.
The emergency declaration allowed for the fast-tracking of the Linkage Center, putting people in contact with treatment and services, and also cleared the way for urban alchemy to expand patrols in the area. But, as that 90 day declaration drew to a close in March, critics said the added pressure in the Tenderloin shifted the problems into other neighborhoods. Critics also say the short term declaration didn't create long term solutions to long-standing problems.
Looking back the mayor says the declaration had mixed results. "I had hoped it would make a real difference around the number of people who were using drugs out in the open and publicly," said
Mayor Breed. "I had hoped it would make a huge difference in the number of people we were able to move toward treatment."
The mayor said a major hurdle to address the issues facing the Tenderloin has been a lack of consequences for drug dealers, something she says recently appointed District Attorney Brooke Jenkins can begin to address. "The jails were like a revolving door for people who should be held accountable for what's happening on our streets, and that's exactly what our district attorney is doing," said Mayor Breed.
The district attorney has made it clear, her priority in the Tenderloin is making sure those who need help with addiction get help, while those who peddle drugs are prosecuted. "I think we're going to have to do something bold in order to really get control of the situation particularly in the Tenderloin, but also South of Market and other neighborhoods that are begging for a change," said DA Jenkins.
The mayor says the challenges facing the Tenderloin won't be met with policy decisions alone, but with where the city spends its money for example, she says the city's police department is currently at least 500 officers short.
"I mean for the police, it was a big deal to get a budget through the Board of Supervisors without significant cuts so that we can move forward as aggressively as we can with not only recruitment but retention and making sure that our police force is trained," said Mayor Breed.
The mayor says she hopes the problem decades in the making won't take decades to resolve.