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Mayor Breed rejects criticism over linkage center drug use, early numbers show just 3% connected to services

The Tenderloin linkage center had 1,180 visits in its first week of operations, but only 3% of those encounters led to a person being connected to additional services, according to a report released Tuesday.

The linkage center opened last week as the centerpiece of Mayor London Breed’s state of emergency declaration in the Tenderloin—the neighborhood most devastated by the city’s overdose epidemic, which claimed 650 lives last year. The facility is intended to serve as a space for people suffering from mental illness and drug addiction to find respite. But some people are already criticizing the city for allowing people to use drugs in the space, alleging that this permissiveness is damaging to those seeking help.  

When asked about the visible signs of drug use at the site, the Department of Emergency Management told The Standard in an email that the site’s low barrier treatment method, which relies on building trust with clients, "means bringing people in without asking a lot of questions."   

Mayor London Breed expressed her continued support for the site at a press conference Wednesday, and she also responded to criticism by saying it’s better for people to use drugs at the linkage center than on the streets.  

“This is a place where there’s no judgment, where there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution,” Breed said. “I wouldn’t suggest that something like drug use is allowed, but it’s happening all over the city. … We cannot control who does or does not use drugs in any given location.”  

This represents a dramatic reversal by Breed, who told reporters last month that the city would no longer allow people to use drugs in public. 

Staff at the linkage site reversed three overdoses in their first week, according to the new report. 

Image courtesy of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management

Given the center’s soft opening last Tuesday, which was not announced in any official statements, a representative from the Department of Emergency Management suggested last week that early attendance numbers were promising.

The report reveals 187 people who visited the linkage center were provided with referrals and a total of 33 people were successfully linked to currently unidentified programs. Of the total number of guests, 767 people chose not to follow through with services, including 499 clients who engaged in “meaningful” conversations with linkage center staff. 

Prior to the site’s opening, several supervisors and homeless advocates were critical about a lack of transparency on the facility services. Since that time, many of these same officials and organizations have been working with the linkage center and referrals to mental health and addiction services in the Tenderloin appear to be trending up.  

Last week, the Felton Institue's Street Team reported 183 referrals to the linkage center and 249 total referrals, an increase of 104 from two weeks prior.  

Other stats included in Tuesday’s report includes calls for service, felony arrests and engagements by outreach programs. Each category remained relatively flat compared to reports from previous weeks. 

Thus far, concerns that the mayor’s emergency declaration would lead to more homeless people and drug users being arrested have yet to come to fruition. Law enforcement officers made 17 arrests for the sale of narcotics last week, which is only slightly higher than the average of 14.5 arrests made every week in 2020. But drug activity remains high in several high-priority areas of the Tenderloin, according to the report, including the 300 block of Hyde Street and the 600 block of Eddy Street, which saw 160 and 120 instances of drug activity, respectively.

Correction: The report on the linkage center's performance in the first week of operations notes that it had 1,180 visits, but officials have since clarified that this number includes people who came to the center multiple times. Of those total visits, only 3% resulted in a person being successfully linked to services.

David Sjostedt can be reached at