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San Francisco plans 12 new drug consumption sites despite legal hurdles

Tenderloin Center employees hand out brochures for resources on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, outside the center, which closed down to the public on Dec. 4. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The San Francisco Department of Public Health plans to open 12 new drug consumption sites over the next two and a half years, according to public records obtained by The Standard.

A PowerPoint presentation titled “Wellness Hub Implementation Roadmap” gave details for new facilities that would provide overdose prevention and other services across six San Francisco neighborhoods including the Tenderloin, SoMa, the Mission, the Castro, the Haight and the Bayview.  

“The intent is to locate wellness hubs in neighborhoods highly impacted by overdoses,” the health department said in a statement. “The location also depends on the availability of real estate.” 

The proposed “wellness hubs,” first introduced as part of the health department’s Overdose Prevention Plan in September, would fall into three different service tiers. All 12 proposed facilities would offer safe consumption services, according to the proposal. 

In addition to overdose prevention, the most basic sites will also offer rudimentary medical care and social service referrals as well as snacks and coffee. The more equipped facilities will also offer showers, laundry, locker spaces and transportation to services. 

According to the document, the health department aims to open the first three facilities, two of which will be in SoMa and the other in the Tenderloin, by June. 

Should the plan come to fruition, by 2026, the Tenderloin will host four safe consumption sites while SoMa will host three. The Bayview will be home to two, and the Castro and the Haight will have one site each.  

Safe consumption sites are illegal under federal law, but New York City went ahead and opened two such facilities last year. Many SF officials have voiced their support for opening safe consumption sites—sometimes referred to as overdose prevention sites—where clients can use illegal drugs under supervision.

Mayor London Breed's office did not respond to a request for comment by press time, but later disputed in an emailed statement that the city plans to open 12 such sites.

“City Departments often put forward ideas and proposals in power points – that doesn’t mean they are happening,” said a spokesperson, declining to provide further details.

The Tenderloin Center, a safe consumption site that opened under Breed’s emergency ordinance, closed this week amid sharp disagreements over its effectiveness and impact on the neighborhood

In 11 months of operations at the site, the city says that Tenderloin Center staff reversed 332 overdoses and linked 1,529 clients to housing or shelter. But the facility drew criticism because less than 1% of visits led to a direct connection to behavioral health services. 

Del Seymore, the unofficial “mayor” of the Tenderloin and founder of Code Tenderloin, sits in the “living room” space of the Tenderloin Center on Market Street in San Francisco on June 2, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Litigation involving a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that attempted to open a site in 2018 may provide federal guidelines for operating safe consumption facilities legally. But the Department of Justice has continually pushed back its own deadlines in the case and has yet to release a determination. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill in June that would have legalized the safe consumption pilots in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland. The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office said after the veto that the city would support a nonprofit in opening such a site in San Francisco.  

“As the department plans for future wellness hubs, logistical and legal challenges for implementation remain,” the health department said in a statement. 

David Sjostedt can be reached at