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SF moves one step closer to opening state’s first safe consumption site for drug use

The Budget and Finance committee unanimously passed a resolution on Wednesday to purchase two contiguous properties in the Tenderloin, which, pending legal guidance from the City Attorney and the approval of the full Board of Supervisors, would house the state’s first locally sanctioned safe consumption site.

If the full Board of Supervisors passes the motion next week, the city’s Director of Property will purchase 822 Geary Street and 629 Hyde Street for $6.3 million. Under the current plan, 70 percent of the properties would be used as a crisis intervention unit; the remainder would be allotted for a safe consumption site, where people could use drugs without fear of arrest and under the supervision of medical professionals trained in reversing overdoses. 

Such sites are illegal under federal and state law, and are opposed by some who contend they encourage drug use. But many public health officials believe they are a key means of addressing an epidemic of overdose deaths: New York last week became the first city in the country to implement a safe consumption site.  

San Francisco recorded 511 overdose deaths between January and September of this year, according to the Medical Examiner’s office. The safe consumption site, even if it receives final approval, would not open until September of next year.

An empty lot at 629 Hyde Street may serve as part of the city's first safe consumption site. | James Wyatt

Supervisor Matt Haney, who said he lives a block from the proposed SF site, supported the project but voiced concerns about moving forward with purchasing the property before its intended uses are solidified and the community has been fully engaged on the plans. 

“It feels like a somewhat unusual situation because we are buying a property, we are broadcasting what it is likely to be used for, but we’re not yet committed to that,” Haney said. “I certainly have heard from some people in the neighborhood who have asked for more community engagement before we purchase it.”

While the legality of a safe consumption site in San Francisco is contingent on the governor’s ruling on Senate Bill 57 in January, the city is following in New York’s lead by moving forward with the program regardless. 

During Wednesday’s meeting, DPH health commissioner Dr. David Pating emphasized the need to move quickly in purchasing the properties. 

Pating and the department of public health’s coordinator Eighleen Loughran cited the building’s proximity to a high density of drug users and a nexus of surrounding services. 

“Our understanding was that there were other offers on this building and so the city is moving quickly,” Pating said.  “The evidence is that this greatly improves the neighborhood and the neighborhood’s safety.”

Supervisor Ahsha Safai voiced concerns about placing the site in an already highly concentrated area of services, though he ultimately voted in favor of the proposition.

“I mean, I understand obviously there’s a concentration of need in this part of town,” Safai said. 

Safai and Haney both voiced a need for future sites to be spread out across the city.  

Haney, whose district the proposed site would fall under, joked that the next site should go in Supervisor Safai’s district 11. 

“I appreciate Supervisor Safai’s commitment to helping us ensure that these services are all over the city,” Haney said. “So the next one of these will be in district 11, you heard it here first.”

To which Safai responded, “actually, I think District 4 is ready. It’s their turn. Go ahead supervisor Mar.” 

Over an hour of public comments revealed a seemingly overwhelming amount of community support for the project. Many callers cited a desperate need for advanced services in an area that frequently sees people overdosing on the street.  

Update: On Dec. 13, Zoe Harris at the Department of Public Health told the SF Standard that there is no current timeline for opening of the safe consumption site.