Reactions were mixed to the forthcoming closure of the Tenderloin Center, with many clients who depend on the site for certain services concerned about what will happen next, while area residents and workers were more ambivalent.
“It’s going to be fucked up if they do [close],” said Francisco Contreras, who said he’d been unhoused for two years and was one of several people The Standard spoke to outside the facility on Friday.
Contreras and his partner Shanté Luster said they now store their belongings, take showers and do laundry at the facility, located at UN Plaza. Neither had heard of the Tenderloin Center’s planned closure in December before The Standard informed them.
Luster said that the center’s services have helped them create a more predictable routine and that having somewhere secure to store possessions has allowed them to venture away from where they sleep to look for housing and apply for jobs without the worry that they will be stolen in the meantime.
“That’s huge,” said Luster.
The facility opened in January as part of Mayor London Breed’s Tenderloin emergency declaration and offered referrals to housing and drug treatment as well as food, showers, and other basic services.
But the center has also been controversial: An investigation by The Standard found that top city officials and a key contractor viewed the center as a de-facto safe consumption site, where people struggling with addiction could use drugs under supervision as a means to prevent overdose deaths. Such sites are currently illegal under state and federal law, though harm reduction advocates are hopeful that their legal status could soon change.
The site also reported few referrals to services for unhoused people, with only 31 completed linkages to addiction treatment as of May despite thousands of visits each month. Sometime this spring, the city changed its name to Tenderloin Center from its original name, Tenderloin Linkage Center.
Shawn Holbrook, who was among others in line outside the center late on Friday morning, has struggled with drug addiction in the past and lauded the center’s distribution of methadone, an FDA-approved drug for treating opioid addiction.
“I’ve been all over the country, and this is the only city where you can walk in with no ID, no money, nothing, and walk out with methadone. There’s no other city like that,” Holbrook said.
Stan Pugh, who said he has been unhoused for more than five years, relies on the center for meals and to shower. If it were to close, Pugh said he would have nowhere else to do so.
“It’s been a bit of a lifesaver,” Pugh said, describing the center as transformational.
“I saw people come here who were practically dead, and they came back to life,” Pugh said, tears brimming in his eyes.
Some residents and workers nearby were more ambivalent about the Tenderloin Center.
Edgar Beales, who lives in a high-rise apartment building nearby and said he has had drug addiction issues in his family, reported mixed feelings about supervised consumption sites, saying that the city should be more aggressive in getting people into treatment.
“It’s better than people dying, but I think the city should intervene before [overdosing] happens," Beale said. “That’s not compassion; it seems like a cop-out to me,” Beales said.
Reneé, who works at a Whole Foods across the street from the center and declined to give her last name, said that she is skeptical about how effective the center is and said that unhoused people she’d spoken with do not want to use services offered by the city.
“I think they should have a safe place to go, to get needles,” Reneé said. “The problem is getting people to use [services],” Reneé said.
Jasper Guaspari, a Tenderloin resident, said that the center has made the surrounding area feel safer and worries that will be reversed when the site closes in December.
“It’s cleaned up the area, and if it closes, I think it’s going to spill back out,” Guaspari said.
Reneé said that she hopes that they keep the site, but move it to an area that is less frequented by tourists.
“If they close it, I hope they relocate if it’s still available. I don’t think this is the best place for it,” said Reneé.
Beale admitted that he felt unsure about how the city should best address the needs of the unhoused in his area, saying that seeing people on the street struggling with addiction is painful.
“I would like to see things changed in this neighborhood, I really would,” Beale said.
Camille Cohen contributed to this report.
Garrett Leahy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org