SF supervisors push for safe consumption sites, mayor says there are legal obstacles

San Francisco's city leaders say people are dying on the streets from overdoses, so they're pushing for supervised injection sites. The idea is facing problems on the state and federal levels. The Board of Supervisors say the drug crisis is killing people every day, and they can't wait. So they are preparing to vote on creating wellness hubs immediately.

Evidence of San Francisco's drug crisis is easy to spot. Lawmakers in the city say the crisis has already killed too many. "We've lost over 1,900 San Franciscans since 2020. 1,900 San Franciscans," said District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen. "That is like 10 times the amount we lost during COVID."

San Francisco had been moving toward opening supervised injection sites for close to a year. Just this month the city shut down the Tenderloin Linkage Center, and so far has not opened another option.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen has proposed hearings on why progress stalled and is calling for $5.5 million to fund the opening of wellness hubs in some of the city's hardest hit neighborhoods. "Safe consumption is just the beginning of that tier of services," said Supervisor Ronen. "It's the place that people go before they see a way out of their addiction."

Lydia Branston from the Gubbio Project, helping to treat those struggling with addiction, says until last week she had been working with the city toward setting up a wellness hub. "While we were in this process all of a sudden it was, 'we're not going to continue the process, there was no longer a way forward," said Branston. "These sites will not be funded."

Mayor London Breed says she supports the idea of opening supervised use sites and says the obstacles aren't financial but legal. She says she's looking for guidance from the Department of Justice.

"Again, these are difficult situations because this involves legal advice, significant criminal liability which we cannot just ignore."

Supervisor Ronen says at least seven board members support the wellness hubs, enough for a veto-proof majority. "It is time to step up, take leadership, have some courage to stand by scientifically proven interventions," said Supervisor Ronen.

San Francisco's city attorney has said his office supports a plan similar to what is happening in New York City, where consumption sites are operated by non-profits. City funds could be used for treatment, and health programs, but would not directly fund safe-consumption sites.