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UN Plaza linkage center serves 118 people on opening day

The UN Plaza linkage center—the backbone of Mayor London Breed’s plan to clean up the Tenderloin—provided mental health and drug addiction services to 118 people on Tuesday, its first day open to the public, according to city officials. 

Currently in its soft opening stage, the center will run for 12 hours a day as it ramps up  operations in the coming weeks. The goal is to keep the linkage center open around-the-clock, said Mary Ellen Caroll, director of the Department of Emergency Management. The Department of Public Health, the Department of Emergency Management, Urban Alchemy and HealthRight 360 worked together to reallocate staff members from other programs to run the site.

“We were all super stoked on how many people were actually connected to services yesterday,” Caroll said. “It has just eliminated a lot of barriers for people and has helped us to get them what they need faster.” 

Caroll said that there were twice the number of clients than they expected on the first day but there won’t be comprehensive data on the services provided until the end of the week. 

By 4 p.m. on Tuesday, many of the service providers had packed up for the day and people were dispersed throughout the UN Plaza courtyard eating linkage center spaghetti.

Jandi Williams, an unhoused man addicted to fentanyl, said he was put on a list for housing and was told to come back Wednesday before 8 p.m. He was optimistic about the center.

“I think it’s going to help a lot of people,” Williams said.

Charles Pitts, who has lived on the streets of San Francisco off and on for 20 years, said he’s skeptical of what the center can actually deliver. If the new linkage center is anything like the city’s navigation centers, Pitts said, many looking for help are going to end up frustrated.

“The idea that you’re going to walk in here and walk out with housing, I just don’t see it,” Pitts said. “If someone makes it their full time job to get housing as an impoverished person, it would take about six months.” 

When asked if he would return Wednesday Pitts said, “probably not, I’ve got other things to take care of.”  

Charles Pitts, 50, poses for a portrait in front of the Linkage Center located in the Civic Center of San Francisco on Jan. 18, 2022. | James Wyatt

Many service providers criticized Breed’s state of emergency declaration, insisting that the order would do little for those in need and give Breed sweeping powers to enact a pro law enforcement agenda

HealthRight 360, an addiction treatment provider in San Francisco, hosted a press conference that featured several elected officials who opposed the mayor’s decree on Dec. 20. 

But the provider is now helping to staff the site, and a representative from the organization said that thus far it’s been a success. 

“The plan started to shape up a little better … and I think it’s a really incredible opportunity to have so many providers in one place,” said Gary McCoy, director of policy for HealthRight 360. “It’s been really helpful for the guests that have been coming in here so far.”

McCoy said that the groups hadn’t begun outreach yet, and most, if not all of the guests had arrived via word of mouth.  

David Sjostedt can be reached at