Supervisor proposes public health solutions for rampant drug use in Tenderloin

While the San Francisco mayor and district attorney have been looking at ways to crackdown on rampant drug dealing and use in the Tenderloin neighborhood, the district's supervisor is taking a different approach. 

Supervisor Dean Preston says the solution may lie in treating drug use as a health crisis, not a criminal one.

Neighbors in the Tenderloin constantly complain about open-air drug dealing and use. And while some neighbors have been calling for more police and prosecutions, Preston says decades of evidence shows that conducting a war on drugs doesn't change the situation. 

He says it's time to reframe this crisis on the streets.

"How do you address that," said Supervisor Preston. "If you're going to lean in and really address the situation in the Tenderloin, how do you do it in a meaningful way? Where you're providing long term sustainable change, and focusing on what's really a public health crisis in the neighborhood."

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Preston became the supervisor of the Tenderloin this year, through redistricting at the end of April.

He said he's worked to get to know the area and said for the longest time, there's been no real plan for rehabilitating the Tenderloin or resolving the overdose crisis. Preston is now calling for a hearing this month with the city's Department of Public Health on how to treat the problems facing the Tenderloin as a public health crisis.

"There is no plan," said Preston. "Here we are talking year after year about a problem in the Tenderloin and the city doesn't have a plan to address it. So, we called for a hearing."

The mayor, and district attorney have said a major part of addressing the problems facing the tenderloin is by targeting drug dealers.

"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 London Breed earlier this month.

People who live and work in the Tenderloin have said they'd like to see more police patrolling the area.

"I have to say the police have to make more arrests," said Randy Shaw from the Tenderloin Housing Clinic in August.

Preston said policing and prosecution certainly have a role to play going forward, but the problem needs to be looked at holistically.

"People love to have the debate around prosecution, arrests law enforcement, how much money for the police and that's an important debate to have, I don't want to minimize that," he said. "But, it is not where the solutions to where the drug crisis lie."

The supervisor's hearing with the San Francisco Department of Public Health is set for Thursday.