San Francisco linkage center for homeless, substance abuse services opens

Last month, San Francisco's mayor issued an emergency order to help tackle some major issues, like homelessness and open-air drug use and dealing, that are an ongoing problem in the city's Tenderloin District.

On Tuesday the city launched a new linkage center at UN Plaza, aimed at meeting immediate and long term needs for the city's homeless population and those with substance abuse problems. It's a facility that would have taken months to open under normal circumstance, but organizers say the mayor's emergency order allowed them to open after just a few weeks.

The project got up and running in about two weeks as part of the city's Tenderloin Emergency Initiative. "Whereas it could have been up to nine months," said Mary Ellen Carroll, Director of San Francisco's Department of Emergency Management. "You know, there were code issues, and planning issues, that if we weren't in an emergency we would have gone through and had to ask for variances."

The linkage center offers short term services like food, beverages and showers with the hope that by forging a bond with those who need those services will take advantage of longer term opportunities to get drug treatment and permanent housing. 

"That's how it works, right? You want to move people any positive in any direction of help we want to be there for them," said Dr. Vitka Eisen from HealthRIGHT 360.

On the first morning the facility opened its doors, people filtered in and out. Ivan Von Staich said he's frustrated because he's ineligible for housing because technically he has friends he can stay with. "They need to get more housing support for these people and get them off the streets, that's what I'm trying to do," said Von Staich. "That's why I went in there. I'm 65 years old, I'm a senior citizen, so, I'm trying to get some assistance."

San Francisco District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney was on hand and said the facility is an important step, but there needs to be a commitment going forward to help residents of the Tenderloin, housed and unhoused. 

"There needs to be a place or a set of places where 24 hours a day when people who are in behavioral health crisis, who are addicted, can go and get immediately connected to services and care," said Supervisor Haney. "In our city with this drug epidemic we're facing this is not just a short-term need, it's a long-term need."

To start with, the site is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., the plan is to expand the hours, so it operates 24 hours a day with the capacity to handle up to 100 clients at a time. 

The linkage center has a six-month lease at its current site on Market Street, after that, the city can decide if they want to replicate the model elsewhere in the city and make it a permanent feature.